The New York Giants' two most recent Super Bowl championships have come about unconventionally.
In 2007, they went 4-4 in the second half of the regular season yet won four straight games away from home in the playoffs to capture the title. Last season, they lost five of six games heading into a showdown with the New York Jets in Week 16. Somehow, they won that game and their next five to grab another championship.
These late-season heroics have many people believing that the Giants can just turn it on when they need to, no matter how poorly they are playing. One such believer in this theory is Grantland's Bill Simmons:
The Giants are definitely losing two to three more times (remaining sked: bye week, Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore, Philly) so they can slide comfortably into that no. 4-seed, then host the Packers in Round 1 as everyone discounts their chances, followed by that Round 2 trip to Atlanta that you know they're dying to make. The Giants figured out the ebbs and flows of a five-month season better than any perennial contender in recent memory. It pisses me off.
Others, however, are wisely not buying into this theory, like ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk and, more importantly, the Giants' head coach, Tom Coughlin:
Tom Coughlin's team is on yet another November slide. But the Giants vow that they can turn things around just like they did last season.
But are the Giants playing with fire and thinking that they can just flip the switch on whenever they want to?
"I'm hoping that's not the case," Coughlin said. "I think when you look at the six-game schedule, if you can't get excited about playing this six-game schedule, wow."
If the Giants are going to get to the postseason and defend their title, they will certainly have to earn it. And it's best that they don't wait until the last possible moment to play their best football.
The Giants certainly are "playing with fire" if they think that struggling through most of the second half of the season is a recipe for a championship. Sure, it worked in 2007 and 2011, but what about the years in between?
In 2008, the Giants lost three of their last four regular-season games after starting the year 11-1. This poor stretch carried over into the playoffs, as they dropped a dud performance on their home fans in a 23-11 divisional round loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Big Blue started 5-0 the following year, but lost eight of their last 11 games to fall completely out of the playoff picture.
And finally, the best example that this team can't turn it on when it wants came in 2010. After the Giants blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead in a loss to the Eagles at home in Week 15, they followed that game up with a 45-17 shellacking in Green Bay. They were eliminated from the playoffs the following week despite ending their season with a road win against the Redskins.
Even last year, the Giants were fortunate to not have their season all but end in Dallas in Week 14. They trailed the Cowboys by 12 points with less than six minutes remaining in the game. If New York lost, it would have dropped two games behind the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East with only three games remaining.
Eli Manning led his team to a stunning comeback win with two clutch touchdown drives. Even with Manning's heroics, the Cowboys would have won if Tony Romo completed a deep pass to a wide open Miles Austin on 3rd-and-5 with just over two minutes left and Dallas leading by five points.
Will the Giants cruise into the playoffs?
Over their last six games, starting Sunday night at home against the Green Bay Packers, the Giants have an opportunity to not play Russian roulette with their playoff destiny. Because the Cowboys continued to show how inept they are as a franchise with their embarrassing home loss to the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving day, New York owns a 1.5-game lead in the NFC East.
None of the other three teams in the division seem capable of a winning record, so the Giants can sail to a division title by simply winning four games the rest of the way. Sure, they can win three games and still probably get in the postseason, but that is once again unnecessarily tempting fate.
You see the Giants' remaining schedule in the Simmons quote above. If this team comes out of the bye week focused, hungry and remains somewhat healthy, it should be able to find four victories amongst those six opponents.
While recent history may show that a strong second half is not necessary for this team to win a Super Bowl, it is not wise to rely on a formula that has only worked twice in the last five seasons.