The Giants go into Sunday’s game knowing their immediate playoff fate.
They will be the NFC’s sixth seed, an accomplishment of considerable note in coach Brian Daboll’s first year, with a bunch of players who bought in early during highly attended spring workouts, gained confidence with early-season results, weathered a four-game non-winning streak from Nov. 20 to Dec. 11 and secured the Giants’ first playoff berth in six years.
It has been a remarkable season.
Win, lose or draw in Philadelphia, the Giants are likely to meet the Vikings in Minneapolis during wild-card weekend. If the 49ers lose to the Cardinals, San Francisco could be the Giants’ opponent.
For the Eagles, this game is more meaningful, to say the least, and in recent days it seemed as if quarterback Jalen Hurts would return as the starter. They need him.
Sunday marks the Eagles’ third and final chance to control their fate and stake their claim to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Without Hurts, they’ve failed in the past two weeks, losing at Dallas and to New Orleans. Hurts won’t be tasked with saving the Eagles’ season, exactly, but his return could be pivotal in securing the NFC’s top seed.
Hurts took steps during the week that appeared to indicate he will play. That surely would please Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who told reporters he had his “worst game” as a play-caller last week against the Saints.
The Eagles were scoreless in the first half and opened the game with four consecutive three-and-outs. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew was sacked six times.
It would figure that the Eagles will be a more spirited group on Sunday.
As for the Giants? We shall see. This game means almost nothing. Or, if you prefer, nothing at all. When asked about resting players, Daboll was coy all week. He and general manager Joe Schoen “will do what’s best for the Giants.”
It has to be at least tempting — and perhaps responsible — to avoid injury by sitting the most crucial players. That could include Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley, nose tackle Dexter Lawrence and, almost certainly, players who recently have battled injury, including defensive lineman Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari. Daboll could make a case that choosing to rest other starters also is prudent.
If the Giants essentially treat the game as meaningless, who could blame them? Last week they played one of their most complete games in ages against the Colts. They hadn’t scored as many as 30 points in their previous 43 games (they last did so in the fifth game of 2020, a 37-34 loss to the Cowboys). And the Giants hadn’t scored as many as 30 points and won in the previous 49 games dating to 2019.
On Friday, Daboll did rule out Williams, who has battled a neck injury and Ojulari, whose ankle got rolled up on at Minnesota.
This has been a season of change for the Giants, one they — and we — may look back on as pivotal in their recent history, at least. Daboll generally is not one for great introspection during the season (many head coaches aren’t, but he has been more reflective of late).
During the early months of his tenure, Daboll was not only trying to learn about his team but have his team learn about him.
“I think the most important thing when you’re starting over in a new program — whether you’re a position coach, a coordinator or in this case a head coach — is to really let the players get to know you as well,” Daboll said.
That process, Daboll said, doesn’t take a day or a week. Rather, it has lasted all season.
“I think each relationship on the team is a little bit different,” he said. “I think you treat everybody fairly, not the same. I think just like in the outside world, not in this building, you have different relationships with different people. There’s things that make one person tick versus the other one, maybe not so much. I think you’re just kind of getting a feel for who the person is, and really more importantly, let them know who you are so you can build a level of trust.”
There is a different vibe in the Giants’ locker room now, compared with the recent past. And there is a playoff game to play next weekend. These are promising days for the Giants no matter what happens on Sunday.