Shane Vereen has been the yardstick many times. In his four seasons as a running back for the Patriots, he and his team went into almost every game facing a team looking to make a name for itself, wanting to see where it stood against the best in the league.
On Sunday, he'll be the one looking for a measurement.
The Giants will host the Patriots -- Vereen's former team -- with a chance to find out a lot about themselves and their status in the league. A lot of things can happen.
They could win, which would allow them to remain in first place in the NFC East and enjoy the adulation of the league for marring yet another perfect season in New England.
They could lose a contested game, which could very well have the same effect it did in the 2007 regular-season finale, when a hard-fought defeat gave them the confidence to push through to a championship.
Or, they could do what most expect: get beat by the Patriots -- just like all eight of the previous customers who grabbed the carnival hammer, hit the plunger and watched helplessly as the bell remained unrung.
"We're going up against the best team we've played so far this season," said Vereen, a Giants running back now. " . . . Great chance for us to test what we've got up against an undefeated team."
Coach Tom Coughlin has been trying to instill in his team what it will take to beat the Patriots, but beating them might not be the only way to come away with a win.
"Obviously, when you're playing a team that's this good, it is a measuring stick for you," Coughlin said. "But again, there are a lot of games to be played, and what my goal and what we're trying to do here is to try to get better every week, to try to get a little bit better every week, so that we can be at our best when you're talking about the stretch. That's the main thing for me."
Oh, a victory would be sweet. And the Giants certainly have been known to shock the Patriots (and the world) in the past.
But the season won't be over with a win or a loss. The Giants' lead over the Eagles in the division is a half-game and could be gone by the end of the day (Philadelphia hosts Miami). Even in the Giants' best-case scenario -- a win and an Eagles loss -- they could come back from their bye next week with no more than a one-game lead.
"We have to keep winning," Coughlin said. " . . . The idea is to somehow, some way start to put some wins together. That's what has to happen if you're going to end up having a say in what this is all about."
The Patriots won't make that easy. "I'm pretty sure they'll be well-prepared," Vereen said. "If there's one thing I've learned, they'll be prepared on Sunday."
The Giants think they are as well. They've certainly shown they have an offense capable of handling a shootout. Their defense is last in the league in yards allowed, but has a newfound swagger thanks to the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul.
"They're undefeated," JPP said this past week, "but they have to come through here first."
They do. And they'll go on, with a loss or still carrying their unbeaten record. Likely deep into the playoffs. The Giants? This could be the game that sets the tone for their stretch run.
"When you're going against a good team, you're going against a Super Bowl team, there's an excitement because you want to go out there and you want to play well," Eli Manning said. "Many other teams have tried and have not succeeded. We've got an opportunity. Hopefully we can go out there and play well."