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Even with no hope for playoffs, Eli Manning thinks Giants can start improving now

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on before playing

Giants quarterback Eli Manning looks on before playing the Washington Redskins at FedExField on Sept. 25, 2014 in Landover, Md. Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

Eli Manning made it clear that the focus for the next five games will be on the next five games.

"You never play for next year," the Giants quarterback said. "Right now, we're playing for this year, playing for right now. That's the mind-set. I think you just have to understand that it's not too late to get on a hot streak and feel good about what we're doing."

And yet, with the 2014 season already kaput at 3-8, it's only human to look toward the future. That's the next opportunity to win a championship. Even Tom Coughlin can't resist the urge to peek ahead and see what 2015 might have in store for the Giants (assuming he is still the coach). Asked Monday whether he imagines an offense with a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and a healthy Victor Cruz -- something the team had for all of 1 1/2 games this season -- he conceded that the thought has crossed his mind. Briefly.

Then he snaps himself out of it. "I'm more of a realist," he said. "[Cruz] isn't out there. We've got to go ahead and do better things with the people that we have."

Realism should not preclude preparations, though. Yes, the Giants need to play and fight and try to win as many of their remaining games as they can. But doing so with an eye to the future is not a bad idea, either. Because the reality is that this year's team is going nowhere. Next year's team? They may have a chance.

Manning strongly hinted that he'd like to keep as many of this year's Giants together as possible by drawing a parallel to the path of a previous championship.

"I think you look back to our 2006 season," Manning said. "We went 8-8, we weren't a very dominant team. Next year, without really much adjustment with players and personnel, we win a championship. I think that is kind of the way football goes. Being with the same crew for a year, two years, or three years, it's going to make you stronger and more comfortable."

Many of the pieces on this Giants team just got here, from free-agent acquisitions such as Rashad Jennings, Geoff Schwartz and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to draft picks such as Beckham and Devon Kennard and Weston Richburg. Manning does not want to blow that up.

"We had some new guys on this squad and hopefully we'll be able to stick together for a few more years and make something special," he said. "I think it can start right now. It can start at this time. I think we've made some improvement, we're doing some better things, but it's not too late to get on a hot streak, and get things rolling right now."

Coughlin, who may have been thinking about the future all along with his newfound reliance on rookie players in key roles, noted that there aren't many youngsters on the roster he could insert to just see what they can do in these remaining games. Most of them already have been playing. And gaining experience. It may not have been planned that way as injuries have forced the greener members of Big Blue into situations they might not have otherwise been prepared for. But at some point, it will help the Giants. Not this year. Maybe next?

"I always mention that no two teams are ever the same," Coughlin said about the changes that take place during the offseason in personnel and personality, changes that undoubtedly will have to take place this offseason after a third straight year without making the playoffs. "But heading in the right direction? I would certainly hope so, yes."

New York Sports