They have been hovering on the edge of the edge of contention, not quite there, but close enough to dream. They’re far closer to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft than they are to the 2020 playoffs, yet winning their miserable division still isn’t out of reach.
That’s why if the Giants (2-7) do beat the Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1) on Sunday, they will consider themselves in the thick of it all, tied with the division leaders in the win column and two games back in the loss column. They’ll have the momentum of their first two-game winning streak since last season, and they’ll have a real shot to at least give co-owner John Mara the meaningful December football he’s craved.
But could they really do it? Could they win the NFC East? Given the schedule and their current situation, it’s hard to draw a straight line from the Giants to the postseason, but it’s certainly not impossible. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, but here’s why the Giants might just be able to pull this NFC East miracle off...
Carson Wentz is struggling, too
Daniel Jones is one of the lowest-rated starting quarterbacks in the NFL (76.1) and he’s thrown an alarming nine interceptions in nine games. But Wentz is rated lower (73.2) and has thrown a league-worst 12 interceptions in eight games. Now it’s true, his receiving corps has been battered by injuries and that has taken its toll. But it’s also true that he’s in his fifth NFL season and should be beyond the mindless turnovers and terrible decisions by now.
The Eagles are starting to get healthy, especially on offense, which could give them an advantage. But the way Wentz is playing, everyone anointing the Eagles as favorites should proceed with caution. He could still very easily throw this division away.
The Cowboys are done without Dak
The thing that made the Cowboys the early favorites, despite the worst defense in the division, was their array of offensive weapons. There was no one in the NFC East that could match it. But the season-ending injury to Dak Prescott changed all that.
Expecting the Cowboys to compete without Prescott is crazy. Andy Dalton isn’t good enough anymore to dig them out of a 2-7 hole, and they certainly won’t do it behind Ben DiNucci or Garrett Gilbert. They have enough on offense to surprise a team or two, but they still have that awful defense. They need to win games 35-32, and without Prescott they’re not capable of doing that, even against the easiest remaining schedule in the division.
The Giants have the toughest defense to play against in the division
They are not the highest-ranked defense, but they play team defense as well as anyone. And they have balance – a strong front line, excellent play from their linebackers, and an improving secondary. Most importantly, they have the sixth-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. And that’s going to matter when the weather turns, especially in a division littered with questionable quarterbacks.
The improvement is also noticeable for the Giants. The pass-rush is getting stronger, including from Leonard Williams. Even without a second corner to help James Bradberry, they are getting timely turnovers from defensive backs and linebackers. The defense has come close to winning several games for the Giants and could easily be good for a few down the stretch.
The ceiling is higher for the Giants
Right now they are a team on the upswing, which isn’t the case for most of their division rivals. They are getting better. And there is a lot of room for more improvement. Consider that they’ve been in nearly every game this season with virtually no help from their quarterback or their offense.
Maybe that continues and it drags them down. But the offensive line is getting stronger. The Giants suddenly can run the ball a little (four-straight games over 100 yards). The missing piece is Jones. He was terrific as a rookie, but hasn’t been good this season. If things finally click for him the way they did a year ago, the Giants could be dangerous for anyone the rest of the way.
The Eagles can make a similar argument with Wentz, especially if his arsenal gets healthy. But Jones’ upside could be higher right now, considering where Wentz is in his career.
The schedule could be in their favor (though it’ll take some work)
The Giants have a killer stretch to open December – at Seattle, home for Arizona and Cleveland, and at Baltimore. But the truth is, every team but Dallas in this awful division has 4-5 seemingly “unwinnable” games remaining. The key will be who can steal a game or two that they shouldn’t win.
That’s where the schedule could help the Giants. If they can beat Philly and the 2-5-1 Bengals after their bye week, they conceivably could be sitting atop the NFC East at 4-7 (the Eagles play at Cleveland and vs. Seattle after they’re done with the Giants). They’d have all the momentum and confidence heading into their killer stretch.
Assuming they take care of the easier business – beating Philly, Cincinnati and winning their season finale against Dallas – they’ll probably need two wins in that four-game stretch. But it’s not out of the question that 6-10 will be enough to win this division. So maybe one win – home against Arizona or Cleveland – will do.