The “Giants” will play their 16th and final game of the season on Sunday.
The team name is in quotes because, for the most part, the guys who will be on the field for the contest against Washington were never expected to be there. They are not responsible for the stench emanating from the franchise; they are only symptoms of it. Most weren’t expected to be starting and playing large roles, and a good number of them weren’t even affiliated with the team when this season of woe and disappointment began 112 days ago.
They’re more symbols of the despair, just taking care of the mop-up duty and personifying the downfall of a team that has gone from a Super Bowl contender to being the second-worst club in the NFL. And it’s hardly a sturdy qualifier to be second-worst in anything in the NFL when the Browns are involved. Of the 31 functional teams this season, the 2-13 Giants currently are ranked 31st.
So who are these players who will be wearing Giants uniforms, forced into representing the organization? And how different will the team that walks off the field on Sunday look from the one that walked on it Sept. 10 in Dallas?
Other than the starting quarterback — who may be making his curtain call for the organization — there is a good chance that if you own a Giants jersey with a current player’s name and number on the back of it, he won’t be playing on Sunday.
Consider that on offense, no player will have started every game of the season at the position he was slated to play. Not even Eli Manning can say that (for the first time since 2005). John Jerry will get 16 starts, but at two different positions. Ereck Flowers started the first 15 games at left tackle, but is being benched for the finale. And rookie tight end Evan Engram, with a rib injury, will miss a game for the first time in his career.
That’s not an excuse, but it does help explain a team that:
* was shut out in its last game;
* has scored 228 total points and needs to score at least 10 on Sunday to avoid being the most futile offensive unit in franchise history (the 1979 Giants scored 237 points, which is their record low for a 16-game season);
* has averaged 13.5 points per game in the 13 games in which Philadelphia was not the opponent (the Giants managed their two highest outputs of the season, 29 and 24 points, against the NFC East-leading Eagles).
“We lost some of our playmakers, we lost some of our linemen, it’s been tough,” Manning said. “We’ve had to change some things around and we’ve not been able to do everything we could do. And we’re just not playing as well as we need to.”
The Giants have 23 players on injured reserve. You’d have to make a few position adjustments — put Odell Beckham Jr. at quarterback, Landon Collins at running back, etc. — but if you worked with the list of those injured players, you probably could create an offense just as effective and possibly more dynamic than the one made up of the guys who actually are available.
The defensive front has been remarkably healthy — only Olivier Vernon has not started all 15 games, and he has started 11 — but behind them is more chaos. When the Giants are in a nickel defense on Sunday, which figures to be most of the time, there will be only one projected Opening Day starter on the field behind the front four: Darian Thompson. Four of those seven were not on the Giants’ roster when they played their final preseason game in August. Two of them were not on the team as recently as when they were eliminated from playoff contention over Thanksgiving weekend.
Giants broadcaster Carl Banks calls them “flip-card kids.” They’re the players that no one recognizes without having to check the roster on the flip card in the press box. It’s as if the team has spent the past two months in a perpetual loop of fourth preseason games . . . minus the optimism.
Not everyone is using the situation as a crutch. Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been playing for several weeks with a fractured finger, was asked about the Giants barely having enough healthy players and “firepower” to make it through the last game.
“What do you mean, ‘firepower,’ man?” he said. “You have guys that are playing football out here. This is an NFL team. The next guy has to step up. Key players go down, the next steps up. That’s the way it is.”
That’s the way it’s supposed to be, anyway. This year, for the Giants, the old football axiom hasn’t quite worked out. Like just about everything else.
Here is a look at the lineups on offense and defense that the Giants thought they were going into the 2017 season with and the lineups they’ll likely take the field with in Sunday’s regular-season finale. Six of the 23 projected starters for Sunday were not on the Giants’ roster when the season began.
Proj. Week 1 starter; Prob. Week 17 starter
QB: Eli Manning; Eli Manning
RB: Paul Perkins; Wayne Gallman
WR: Odell Beckham Jr.; Roger Lewis Jr.
WR: Brandon Marshall; Hunter Sharp*
WR: Sterling Shepard; Travis Rudolph*
TE: Evan Engram; Rhett Ellison
LT: Ereck Flowers; Ereck Flowers
LG: Justin Pugh; John Jerry
C:; Weston Richburg; Brett Jones
RG: John Jerry; John Greco*
RT: Bobby Hart; Chad Wheeler
DE: Olivier Vernon; Olivier Vernon
DT: Damon Harrison; Damon Harrison
DT: Dalvin Tomlinson; Dalvin Tomlinson
DE: Jason Pierre-Paul; Jason Pierre-Paul
OLB: Jonathan Casillas; Kelvin Sheppard*
MLB: B.J. Goodson; Calvin Munson
OLB: Devon Kennard; Devon Kennard
CB: Janoris Jenkins; Ross Cockrell
S: Landon Collins; Andrew Adams
S: Darian Thompson; Darian Thompson
CB: Eli Apple; Brandon Dixon*
NCB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; Darryl Morris*
*- wasn’t on Giants’ opening day roster