The five remaining games on the schedule may be virtually meaningless to the Giants in terms of their microscopic playoff chances, but for a lot of players, the significance of this stretch run on their careers cannot be measured. From soon-to-be free agents to veterans hoping to hang on for another season, these games will matter tremendously. A look at five in particular who have something to prove in the next five weeks:
HAKEEM NICKS, WR
Perhaps no one has more at stake than Nicks, the first-round pick whose rookie contract expires at the end of this season. It seems unlikely that he'd return to the Giants for less than what Victor Cruz got this past offseason -- $46 million over six years, including $15.6 million guaranteed -- but his production the past two seasons has been fractional compared with Cruz's, and the Giants might not be willing to go that high. Nicks chalked up his down numbers in 2012 to injuries (foot and knee), but this year has been an enigma. He has 42 receptions for 620 yards but has not found the end zone since Week 14 last year. "I don't think it's been frustrating,'' he said of his season. "It's not over.'' A return to form in the last five games could convince a team to pay him close to what wide receiver Mike Wallace signed for in Miami last season: $60 million over five years with $30 million guaranteed.
SPENCER PAYSINGER, LB
It's been a roller-coaster season for Paysinger, who was a starter and one of the most important players on defense early on but has hardly seen the field as a defender since the acquisition of Jon Beason in early October. What's left for him to do is prove his value on special teams, something he and fellow marginalized linebacker Mark Herzlich have been doing. Paysinger's future with the Giants is tied to Beason's. If they re-sign Beason, also a free agent, Paysinger will become expendable. But if the Giants think Paysinger was close to becoming the voice of the defense before the Beason coup, they might be willing to give him another chance. That happens only if Paysinger continues to play well on special teams, though. For the next five weeks, he'll have to run under every kickoff and every punt as if his career depends on it. Because it might.
TERRELL THOMAS, CB
Before he was hurt in the 2011 preseason, Terrell Thomas seemed to be poised for a Pro Bowl career. Two knee reconstructions later, he is starting to show flashes of the player who led the team in tackles and interceptions for two straight seasons. The Giants brought him back this year on a prove-it deal to see what he had left, and it's been a triumph just for him to be on the field.
What will keep Thomas from the big money that free-agent cornerbacks usually garner is the fear that a fourth ACL tear would end his career and his lack of action as an outside defender. Thomas has played his best in the nickel covering slot receivers, a role in which his size and strength are assets and whatever diminished speed he has can be neutralized. Perhaps, though, just as slot receivers are starting to be recognized with big contracts (Victor Cruz,Wes Welker, Danny Amendola), Thomas can be one of the first slot defenders to cash in at the position. If he can make it through the season playing all 16 games, he could be.
JAMES BREWER, G
Brewer came into the season knowing this was a make-or-break season for him, his third year with the team. Now he'll get an opportunity to convince the Giants he should stick around. Brewer figures to play the rest of the season at left guard after Jim Cordle was put on injured reserve this week. "My plan is to just make the most of it and play well," said Brewer, who started in the opener against the Cowboys before returning to a reserve role until last week's game. Brewer hasn't seen much action on the field in his career. He did not play in any games as a rookie in 2011 and appeared in just six last year. With the offensive line in transition this offseason - no one knows if injured veterans David Baas or Chris Snee will be back or if first-round pick Justin Pugh will move from tackle to guard - Brewer has an opportunity to be penciled into a position when the planning for 2014 starts. "For me," he said, "it's just to show the coaching staff that I'm the right guy for the job."
LINVAL JOSEPH, DT
Joseph may be the Giants' most overlooked and underappreciated defender. There may be a certain nobility to that, but under-the-radar is not the place to be when you are about to become a free agent as Joseph will be after this season. He's started every game but one for the Giants in the last three seasons and has been a key to their new-found success against running backs this year. "Right now I'm just playing week by week," he said. "The object right now is stop the run, stop the pass, and win games. Everything else is going to follow." If he can do so in a flashy fashion -- perhaps with a few sacks and tackles for loss thrown in -- it might open some eyes as well as some wallets. Joseph has probably already played well enough to draw interest from other teams and there's no indication the Giants will let him walk. "I can always get better," he said. "Right now I'm focusing on this team, not worrying about what's going to happen after this year until the end of the season and I'll add everything up and go from there."