There is no denying now that the Giants are in a playoff chase, as crazy as that may seem with their 3-7 record. In fact, when the Giants return from their bye week on Nov. 29 in Cincinnati, they could be playing for a chance to take over first place.
There are obstacles in their way, of course – including three crummy teams, their own obvious flaws, and a painful December schedule. But the division really is horrendous and the Giants are playing as well as anyone at the moment.
So here’s an in-depth look at the race and the perilous path each team has to a title in a division filled with teams that can’t seem to beat anyone but themselves:
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-5-1)
Division record: 2-2; Record against everyone else: 1-3-1
Non-NFC East team they beat: San Francisco 49ers, 25-20, on Oct. 4
Remaining schedule: at Cleveland (6-3), vs. Seattle (6-3), at Green Bay (7-2), vs. New Orleans (7-2), at Arizona (6-3), at Dallas (2-7), vs. Washington (2-7)
Why they can win this thing: They have been decimated by two things this season: Injuries and poor quarterback play. The good news is they’re getting healthier. They got WR Alshon Jeffrey, RB Miles Sanders, TE Dallas Goedert and RT Lane Johnson back last week, and TE Zach Ertz seems to be on deck. That’s a lot of help for a quarterback who has been really struggling. If the surrounding cast was the difference, they’ve got a shot.
Why they can’t win this thing: QB Carson Wentz. He leads the NFL with 12 interceptions. His completion percentage of 58.2 is lower than any quarterback who’s thrown more than 110 passes except for Denver’s Drew Lock. And in his fifth year in the NFL, he’s one of the lowest rated QBs (73.1). He’s also been sacked 35 times -- more than anyone else. Plus, look at their next five games: If they don’t beat Cleveland on Sunday it’s hard to find someone they can beat. The loss to the Giants may have started a six-game losing streak and it’ll be hard to recover from that.
Prediction: They won’t recover. Maybe they beat the Browns – maybe – but they’re still headed for a December tailspin after that. Final Record: 5-10-1
Division record: 3-2; Record against everyone else: 0-5
Non-NFC East team they beat: None, though they nearly took out Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 2 (25-23).
Remaining schedule: at Cincinnati (2-6-1), at Seattle (6-3), vs. Arizona (6-3), vs. Cleveland (6-3), at Baltimore (6-3), vs. Dallas (2-7)
Why they can win this thing: They’re simply playing better than any team in the division right now, and the one missing piece – their offense – has been getting better, too. The defense has been good enough to keep them in every game this season. Seven of 10 games have come down to the final two minutes, and they’ve had double-digit leads in six-straight weeks. And they did most of that with a struggling quarterback and a weak rushing game. Now Jones is playing better and they can run. The pieces of mediocrity are all there.
Why they can’t win this thing: Jones is still in game-manager mode, and he hasn’t shown this season that he can win a game on his own in the fourth quarter – something he’ll undoubtedly have to do at some point. Also, this young team is untested. Five of their last six games have been inside this awful division. And while they were competitive in most of their non-division games, they’re still 0-5 and really were only close to winning one of those. That matters a lot considering those four tough, non-division games they’re facing in December.
Prediction: For those dreaming of a division title it’s easy to see the Giants beating the Bengals in two weeks and Dallas at the end of the season. But where’s the sixth and seventh win? Presumably it would either be Cleveland or Arizona. Give them one, but definitely not both. Final Record: 6-10.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (2-7)
Division record: 2-2; Record against everyone else: 0-5
Non-NFC East team they beat: None, and they lost their first four non-division games by an average of 16 points until they rallied back from a 24-3 deficit against the Lions last Sunday, only to lose on a last-second, 59-yard field goal.
Remaining schedule: vs. Cincinnati (2-5-1), at Dallas (2-7), at Pittsburgh (9-0), at San Francisco (4-6), vs. Seattle (6-3), vs. Carolina (3-7), at Philadelphia (3-5-1)
Why they can win this thing: It’s hard to find a compelling reason, unless you believe that QB Alex Smith’s comeback story is going to have a magical ending. Given their limitations on offense, it probably won’t. Their best hope is their defense, which is ranked high and features a disruptive pass rush. That could keep them in some close games. Also, they do have five games remaining against teams with losing records, which could help.
Why they can’t win this thing: Their defense may be ranked seventh, but they’ve also given up 30 points or more five times. The four times they haven’t? You guessed it: Their four NFC East games. They are getting crushed outside of the division, for the most part, because they can’t run well and their quarterback play is erratic. They’re really the worst of these four teams.
Prediction: They could win their next two games, which might even have them in first place after beating Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. But they’re not equipped to win outside the division, even against losing (but improving) teams like the 49ers and Panthers. Steal one of those games, though, and they’ve got a shot. Final Record: 5-11.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2-7)
Division record: 1-2; Record against everyone else: 1-5
Non-NFC East team they beat: The Atlanta Falcons, 40-39, on Sept. 20
Remaining schedule: at Minnesota (4-5), vs. Washington (2-7), at Baltimore (6-3), at Cincinnati (2-6-1), vs. San Francisco (4-6), vs. Philadelphia (3-5-1), at Giants (3-7).
Why they can win this thing: They have, by far, the easiest remaining schedule in the division, and that’s big when all it may take to win it is stealing a couple of games they aren’t expected to win. They have one game remaining against a winning team (Baltimore) and three division games left. They’ll also get veteran quarterback Andy Dalton back to possibly settle things down and give a struggling offense a boost. And they are still loaded with weapons, if they can ever make them work.
Why they can’t win this thing: They would have and should have been the favorites if Dak Prescott were still playing. But he’s done for the season and the Cowboys have scored 41 points in four games since. Dalton will help, but the Cowboys still have a bad defense and, surprisingly, the second-worst rushing attack in the league. Ezekiel Elliott not only doesn’t have a 100-yard rushing game this season, he hasn’t topped 65 yards since Oct. 11. He’s their engine, and if he’s not working, their offense won’t be working, either.
Prediction: Their weak schedule is a bit of a mirage, since the Vikings, Bengals and 49ers are hardly pushovers, despite their records. And those division games? They’re capable of winning them, but they’d either need Dalton to get hot, or vast improvement from their running game or defense. There hasn’t been much sign of any of that. Final Record: 4-12.
1. GIANTS – 6-10
2. Philadelphia – 5-10-1
3. Washington – 5-11
4. Dallas – 4-12
Yes, it really is this bad. And it could be swayed by just one team winning one game no one thinks they can in December. The Giants are simply playing the best football right now, with the best chance of pulling off that miracle. They may only need one win in their killer stretch to open December to lock up this division. They’re good enough to do that. Maybe.