Is there really that big a difference between being 10-6 and being 9-7 when you're sitting home watching the playoffs anyway?
For the Giants, there seems to be. And although they still have a chance to get into the postseason as the No. 6 seed if they beat the Redskins on Sunday and the Bears beat the Packers in a simultaneous game at Lambeau Field, their focus seems to be more about avoiding the ignominious ending of 2009 than getting into the playoffs.
"What we talked about last year and this offseason was making sure that what happened last year doesn't happen again," Eli Manning said of the two-game skid that punctuated 2009. "We'll see if we learned something, if we improved our character, if we grew up as players and individuals. That's what I think we'll see this weekend."
Lest anyone forget, the Giants lost their final two games of 2009 by a combined score of 85-16. Sunday's 45-17 loss to the Packers made a redux of that free-fall even more of a possibility for the Giants.
Even Tom Coughlin brought up that specter with the team as they prepared for the Redskins, noting that he went back to last offseason during his address to the players yesterday and reminded them that they wanted to "re-establish ourselves, our pride, our honor, which we didn't do last weekend.
"Pride is one word this week," Coughlin said. "But get the football right. Let's get real serious about the fact that we're football players, we've had this thing for the last two weeks set up the way we wanted it, and did not get what we wanted. We have one game to re-establish ourselves."
It was only 11 days ago that the team held a 21-point fourth-quarter lead on the Eagles and the inside track on the division title. Now they're talking about trying to finish strong for the sake of pride. That's a precipitous fall, even if they do make the playoffs.
"It's crazy to think where we were and where we are now," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "It's tough to swallow. But you can hang your head or use it as motivation. We're going to go out here this last week and try to make a statement."
Ten wins is usually a ticket for the postseason. Since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, only 16 teams have won 10 or more games and not made it out of the regular season. One of them was the 1988 Giants, who went 10-6.
Since 1990, when the NFL adopted a new playoff format and went from five to six teams in each conference, only six teams have won 10 and been excluded.
"Anytime you can get 10 wins in this league, it's a good season," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "Normally 10-6 gets you in in the NFC and 10-6 may not get you in the AFC. I think 7-9 will get you in the NFC West."
Last year's Giants were 8-8, and co-owner John Mara said shortly afterward that it felt like a 4-12 season. What would 9-7 feel like this year? What would 10-6 feel like without a playoff spot? It would be different had the Giants surged to 10 wins during the last month, but instead they've spent the last two weeks flailing at it.
They get one last crack at double digits on Sunday, and one chance to get into the playoffs. And one chance to erase the bad feelings that have been gnawing at them since the losses to the Panthers and Vikings last season.
"We don't want to have a repeat of last season where we didn't show up that last game," tight end Kevin Boss said, alluding to the 44-7 loss in the Metrodome. "Regardless if we make it in or not, we want to come out strong and make a statement in this last game. And hopefully Chicago can help us out."