Evan Engram of the Giants against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul...

Evan Engram of the Giants against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Nov. 29, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Justin Casterline

Asked if this season can be considered a success if the Giants fail to win the NFC East and reach the playoffs, tight end Evan Engram got a confused look on his face.

"I don’t really understand the question," he said on Monday.

That’s because on its face, the idea is absurd. This the NFL and there is only one standard by which seasons are judged. It’s got a big silver football on top of it and it’s awarded each February. Being one of the 14 teams to make the postseason this year is the next step toward that achievement. And with that goal so close, it seems ridiculous to not be lunging for it.

"Our goal is to make the playoffs," Engram said, regrouping to answer that initial query. "Obviously we’ve put ourselves in a position to, and it will be disappointing if we don’t. So I guess not."

Of course the Giants’ chances of accomplishing that looked a lot brighter two weeks ago when they sat atop the division standings. Now, after two straight losses, they are a game behind Washington and tied for second with Dallas. If the Giants lose to the Ravens on Sunday, they’ll be eliminated if either Washington or Philadelphia wins later in the day. Washington plays Carolina and the Eagles face the Cowboys.

Washington6800.429Panthers, at Eagles
Cowboys5900.357Eagles, at Giants
Giants5900.357at Ravens, Giants
Eagles4910.321at Cowboys, Washington

Yes, a calendar year that began with the Giants being snubbed by Matt Rhule the head coaching candidate may close with them relying on him and the team that swooped in to grab him to give them a hand in their quest.

If the Giants do beat the Ravens, they’ll be alive in Week 17 no matter what else happens. But even if they win both of their remaining games, they need Washington to lose at least once for that tiebreaker to kick in and give the Giants the ticket to the tournament.

Exciting, right? Even Joe Judge, who has sidestepped many discussions about the possibility of the playoffs by calling them "irrelevant" and "hypothetical" games, can agree with that. To a certain degree.

"I’m not downplaying playoffs," he said on Monday. "We’re all here to compete, we’re all here for the highest prize in all of sports. We all know what that is."

But to return to the original question posed to Engram, Judge does not see this as a playoffs-or-bust season. He never has, not when the Giants were in last place, not when they were in first place, and not now when they are somewhere in the middle.

"I don’t think our progress as a team is measured necessarily by making the playoffs," he proclaimed.

Rather, he is focused on daily and long-term improvement.

"There are a lot of things we have to focus on big picture-wise, there is a lot of progress we still have to make," Judge said. "I am a firm believer in keeping our sights on what the immediate goal is and the long-term goal will take care of itself."

That’s a lot easier for him to say than someone like Engram. Judge won three Super Bowls in New England. He’s in his first season with the Giants and they appear committed to keeping him around a while no matter what the final record of the 2020 season winds up being.

Engram? He’s never even been on a team that has finished with a winning record. There is a real chance he could become the first first-round pick of the Giants to play out his entire rookie contract without the team reaching the postseason since John Hicks, an offensive lineman who was the third overall selection in 1974. For that to happen to Engram, the Giants would have to miss out this year and next year.

So far they’ve been eliminated from neither race, but it is just one of the reasons why Engram wants this now. And why, despite Judge’s insistence on using other metrics, it will be a heavy blow if the Giants don’t make it.

The 2020 Giants weren’t built to be a playoff team. They were assembled to lay the foundation for long-term success. They were to be a stepping-stone to future postseason runs. That hasn’t changed, even with the circumstances in the division changing.

It’s why it’s true that this season may not be measured by whether or not the Giants make the playoffs, but given how close they are to the possibility now, it’s also almost certainly how it will be remembered.

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