The NFL is a topsy-turvy league, I get it. Teams go from worst to first and vice versa rather routinely it seems. How often, though, will the New York Football Giants do so in the midst of one season? Because they are on their way to doing so again in 2011.
Traveling back a few years, in 2006, New York started rather excitedly at 6-2. They finished 2-6, mercifully made the playoffs at 8-8 and were put out of their misery in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Everyone then remembers their 2007 campaign even better. They again started 6-2, something we, in the business, call an “Autumn Coughlin.” The second half of their season was a little choppier, losing four times but culminating in a moral victory of sorts against New England in Week 17.
NE won that final regular season game to clinch their undefeated 16-0 record. The Giants clinched some feeling of competitive elation that they could play with these boys. From the wild card, the Giants then went on to win the Super Bowl over those same Pats.
The following year, the Giants started off hot, ridiculously hot, best team in the conference hot. They won 11 of their first 12 games. They finished…not so hot, losing three of their final four contests, limping into the playoffs. The Eagles, as in 2006, shoved the Giants out of the playoffs in the first round.
The 2009 season witnessed the G-Men start off 5-0 and promptly lose their next four games. They went on to lose four more, miss the playoffs entirely and waste another fantastic start to their season, a technique people are now calling “pulling a giant.”
Last year, as you may have deduced, the Giants started the year in “Autumn Coughlin” fashion at 6-2. They went a pedestrian 4-4 in their final eight, including debilitating losses against Philly (rather famously) and at Green Bay (rather ominously). Even at 10-6, it wasn’t enough to get in the playoffs, not that they deserved it anyways.
Now here we are again, during New York’s bye week, sitting at 4-2, atop the NFC East. The problem is, the Giants seem like anything but a first-place team, almost guaranteeing another year of Autumn Coughlin-ing their way to Pulling a Giant.
To start things off, the Giants are 4-2, having played the easiest schedule in the league. They faced three of the four NFC West foes, the only one still remaining on their docket being the best one, the 49ers.
To complicate matters, they have the toughest remaining schedule in all of football. After they play the Dolphins coming out of the bye, the Giants travel to New England and San Francisco (two division leaders), play Philly again, then the Saints and Packers (two more division leaders).
Their final four games include two battles with the Cowboys, their remaining Redskins game and a “road” game against the Jets. I’m not saying they will go 2-8 in their last 10, but it’s at least on the table.
As a thorn in their foot, the Giants’ current 4-2 record is rather deceiving. They aren’t even that good. As we said, they have faced the three worst teams in the worst division in football, and didn’t even beat all three, losing to Seattle at home. They were also beyond fortunate to win their game at Arizona the week prior.
Their first win of the year, against the Rams, was rather deceiving in itself since the Rams dominated between the twenties. The Giants could barely move the ball on offense without the Rams helping them out with penalties and turnovers. A similar story unfolded against the Eagles the following game, even though the scores were not indicative of it.
Even if we consider their three-point victory over the Bills as “impressive,” that’s simply one win on the year that can be called anything other than fortunate. Throw in the aforementioned home loss to Seattle and an opening game loss to a Redskins team that now looks utterly terrible, and the New York Giants are a mess of a 4-2 team.
The positives, if there are any, are in the numbers. The Giants rank in the top 10 in the NFL in offensive yards and points per game. However, their rushing offense, a supposed strength, has been very poor. And their defense has not been consistently strong. Although they lead the league in sacks, their pass defense is near the bottom of the league and they rank 22nd in the league in points allowed per game.
Although it is very early to rely too much on statistics, one number that jumps out as being indicative of the Giants perhaps being worse than their record indicates is their point differential. On the season, they have only scored seven more points than they’ve given up. A plus-7 is usually reserved for teams at .500, not for teams residing in first place in their division.
For comparison’s sake, the 49ers, a team that has trouble passing the ball, is plus-70 in point differential on the young season.
Now I am not saying an apocalypse is definite. There is certainly the possibility that the Giants are a good team who managed, through strength of will, to eke out these early season victories. They will use that momentum to buoy them the rest of the way, fighting through a difficult schedule to win the NFC East title. Anything is possible; likely, though? It seems as likely as my Autumn Coughlin catching on as an actual saying in football circles.