Are the New York Giants merely playing for pride at this point? And if so, should we feel confident in the Giants' ability to regroup in Week 17 and get back on track in order to save some dignity, regardless of what unfolds elsewhere in the NFC playoff picture?
The Giants need to win Sunday to make the playoffs, but they also need losses from Minnesota, Chicago and Dallas. If that unlikely scenario isn't the focus and doesn't play out, though, and the Giants are indeed merely "playing for pride," as Tom Coughlin has essentially stated, then I fear things could get worse.
The last time the Giants wrapped up a season with little to gain but pride and dignity, Carolina and Minnesota demolished them by a combined score of 85-16 during the final two weeks of the 2009 season. They lost eight of their last 11 that year, and they're on the verge of losing five of their last seven in 2012.
And while the Eagles aren't scaring anybody, they've got nothing to lose. And they beat this New York team earlier this season.
All I'm saying is I'm concerned about the G-men, so there won't be a lot of sunshine and lollipops in this final progress report of 2012.
What They Should Be Thinking
We're coming off of one of the worst two-game stretches in franchise history. We're supposed to be at our best in December on the road, against quality opponents. But instead, we shriveled up and failed to even compete in Atlanta and Baltimore.
The problem? We wish we could pinpoint just one. Highly-paid cornerback Corey Webster has forgotten how to play the game of football. Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck have disappeared. The linebacking corps can't tackle anyone, and the defensive line can't get any pressure.
And that's just the defense.
On the other side of the ball, Eli Manning has been grossly inconsistent and has lost his ability to make magical plays in big spots. It's not as though we've been running the ball poorly or struggling to protect Manning. In fact, we've been much better in those areas this year than we were last year (and we ultimately fared quite well last year). The difference has been Manning, who just doesn't appear to have a lot of gas in the tank right now.
For the second time in five years, we started strong in an attempt to defend a title. But we were clearly still intoxicated from the post-Super Bowl shenanigans. The hangover began to sink in around Week 7 and has only worsened since. We're discovering—yet again—why it's so damn difficult to repeat in this league.
It's extremely hard to think of reasons for optimism right now, but here's one: Based solely on where the Vegas lines have been set, we're supposed to beat Philly, the Packers are supposed to beat Minnesota and the Redskins are supposed to beat Dallas.
If all goes according to plan there, we'd only need the Lions to beat Chicago and we'd be in the playoffs. Considering that the banged-up Bears have lost five of seven and have to travel to Detroit, there's a very decent chance the Lions pull off the upset.
The odds are out of our favor, but it's not a one-in-a-million thing.
And if we do sneak into a wild-card spot, our odds increase greatly. Who's to say we can't get back on track a week later, beating the Packers (who we defeated in Green Bay last January) or the 49ers (who we defeated in San Francisco this October) before making another Super Bowl run?
Manning goes from hot to cold and cold to hot as fast as any quarterback in this league, Ahmad Bradshaw is getting healthier, and that line has the talent to bust out at any given moment. We know this roster has the ability to defy odds and win championships, and we're remarkably healthy in comparison to the majority of the top teams in this conference.
What's I'm Thinking
Stock Rising (offense): Will Beatty
Beatty's quietly had a very good season on Manning's blind side. Sunday against the Ravens, he didn't allow a single hurry, posting the second-best Pro Football Focus rating of his career. Believe it or not, he might be New York's offensive MVP.
Stock Rising (defense): Linval Joseph
Joseph was somewhat of a bright spot against the Ravens, posting what PFF called his best performance of the year. The third-year defensive tackle led the team with five stops and also added three hurries Sunday.
Stock Dropping (offense): Hakeem Nicks
With only three catches on 10 targets in his last two games, Nick has completely disappeared. Honorable mention to Victor Cruz, who has fewer receiver yards (37) than Nicks (40) during that stretch.
Stock Dropping (defense): Corey Webster
It's almost impossible for things to get any worse for Webster, who should be replaced in the offseason. He's was beaten eight times for 140 yards on Sunday.
View last week's report here.