As the Giants come down from the sugar high of two straight wins that created a slim chance at a postseason run, they now face the grim reality that they will not be making the playoffs. It means a month-long slog to the finish line.
The rest of the teams on their schedule? Well, they’re at a very different place.
All five of the Giants’ remaining opponents, beginning with the Bears on Sunday, are vying for playoff berths. The Bears, Redskins and Cowboys would be in the tournament if the regular season already had ended. The other two, the Colts and Titans, are on the outside either by way of a tiebreaker of by a single game in the standings.
That means the biggest impact the Giants can have on January football will come in December, when they have a chance to sour someone else’s chances and show that misery loves company.
It’s time to play the role of spoiler.
Not that they’re embracing that time-honored position. In fact, the Giants say they are paying no attention at all to the records and standings of their remaining foes.
“We’re just trying to beat the Bears,” Pat Shurmur said this past week. “I don’t know what the spoiler thing means. I’m looking at the positive approach of us winning. I’m not really worried about the team we’re playing, whether we hurt their chances to do something else. What I want to do is to be better than the team we’re playing this Sunday.”
The Giants have had to face similar situations more often than they would prefer in recent years. They have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention during the regular season in five of the past six seasons (they made the playoffs in 2016). Two of those times were with five games left. Four of them were with at least two games left. Only in 2012 were they eliminated on the final day of the regular season.
In the past six seasons — since their last Super Bowl win — the Giants have played 15 mathematically meaningless games. And there figure to be a few more on the way this month.
They are not yet mathematically out of it this season, but with only three wins, they are three games out of first place in the NFC East with five games to play. They would need to win out and have everyone else in the division crumble to have a shot.
So what are the Giants going to be playing for the rest of the way? For many, the answer is simple: Jobs.
“It’s easy,” cornerback B.W. Webb said of getting up for these perceived-to-be-meaningless games. “People outside might think it’s hard, but everybody in here, we’re playing for families. People are playing for each other. People are playing for an opportunity to come back and play here next year, or another team wherever it is. People might think that’s hard, even though we might be out of the picture, but it’s easy. It’s what you signed up to do. We’re playing for each other. It’s no drop-off on that.”
There will, of course, be concern about veterans checking out, taking their paychecks and just going through the motions for the next month. That’s happened here in the past, and elsewhere, too. It will be a test of the culture that the Giants have tried to rebuild this season.
“We’ve got a good group of guys,” Eli Manning said. “It’s important to guys. We feel like we’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep preparing and going out there and still chase that feeling of that locker room after a win. That’s a good feeling. It makes the week go easier. It makes Mondays feel better. It makes Tuesdays, it makes everything just easier to take when you’re winning football games. So that’s what we’re chasing.”
And if the Giants happen to ruin someone else’s playoff plans along the way?
“If that’s what happens, that’s what happens, but we’re going with the mindset of winning games,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “You can call it a spoiler if you want to, but we’re just going to go out and give it our best and try to get a W . . . It’s something we’ve been falling short of this season, so we’re going to go out and try to get Ws these last five.”
This season marks the sixth time in the seven years since the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI in the 2011-12 season. A look at some of their worst playoff-deficient spans:
Seasons Record Of note
17 (1964-80) 84-156-4 No playoff appearances
8 (1947-55) 54-50-4 One playoff game (1950)
7 (2012-18) 45-62 One wild card game (2016)