It has been less than a year since the New York Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, turning a mediocre 9-7 regular season into a spectacular playoff run. If they want to have a chance at repeating that feat, they will need to qualify for the playoffs this Sunday.
While a win would bring the Giants up to that 9-7 mark, they will need a significant amount of help from the rest of the NFC if they want to grab the last wild-card spot and keep their hopes alive.
Head coach Tom Coughlin has the team focused on Sunday's game, as they should be. Said Coughlin:
I have our focus completely geared on our business, and we’ll work as hard as we can to rejuvenate our team, try to put ourselves in position where we can win a game and be 9-7.
Fans, however, have the liberty of speculating. Given that, here is a complete breakdown of everything that has to go the Giants' way on Sunday for them to finish the day and the season in the No. 6 playoff spot.
The first, easiest and most obvious thing the Giants need to happen this weekend is a victory at home against the last-place Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants are favored by seven points on Bet Online and have the pleasure of hosting a 4-11 team that is missing injured starting quarterback Nick Foles.
Given this state of affairs, one has to expect New York to pull through and win this game. If they do not, then they truly do not deserve a playoff berth. A loss would eliminate them from the playoffs officially and make the rest of Sundays' games irrelevant.
There are nevertheless a few reasons for concern in this game. The Giants are in the middle of a second-half slump. After hitting the mid-point of the season at 6-2, they have lost five of their last seven games. They were also beaten by the Eagles in an ugly 19-17 game in Week 4 in Philadelphia.
Another potential reason for concern is quarterback Michael Vick, who is expected to start in place of Foles. Vick has had arguably the worst season of his career, but he still has the raw skills required to make big plays and potentially pull off an upset. If the Eagles win this game, a surprisingly solid performance by Vick is likely to be the cause.
Despite these concerns, this should be the easiest piece of the puzzle on Sunday for the Giants. They have a below average team with nothing to play for coming into their building. They need the win, and they should get it.
At the same time that the Giants host the Eagles, the Detroit Lions (4-11) will host the Chicago Bears (9-6). Assuming the Giants are victorious, they will also need the Lions to pull off an upset against the Bears.
If the No. 6 spot in the NFC comes down to teams with 9-7 records, then it will come down to tiebreaks between the NFC East and NFC North. The Giants hold tiebreaks over both the Minnesota Vikings and the Bears. Thus, as long as the Giants are the second-place team in the NFC East, they only need to tie the second-place team in the NFC North at 9-7.
A Bears victory would put them at 10-6 and end the Giants' playoff hopes right then and there. The Bears beat their Detroit rivals 13-7 at home in Week 7. On the other hand, the Bears have not been playing their best football lately. They have lost five of their last seven games.
While the Lions are tied for last place in the NFC, the odds of an upset are not quite as dismal as they might seem. The Bears are only three-point favorites according to Bet Online. The Lions are at home, and this is a rivalry match-up against a slumping Bears team. Do not assume the Lions will go down easily.
One extra story-line in this game is wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Having broken Jerry Rice's all-time record for receiving yards in a season last weekend, Johnson needs 108 yards on Sunday to break the 2000-yard barrier.
By the time the Green Bay Packers kick off at 4:25 in Minnesota against the Vikings, the Giants may already be eliminated from the playoffs. Either a loss against the Eagles or a failure by the Lions to upset the Bears would end the season.
However, if both 1:00 games go well, then Giants fans will have every reason to watch this game. A victory by the 11-4 Packers over the 9-6 Vikings would extend the Giants' season for at least another four hours.
One lucky break for New York is that the Packers have every reason to try in this game. They are currently in second place in the NFC, a half of a game ahead of the San Francisco 49ers. A win would ensure second place and a bye in the playoffs. A loss would most likely mean third place and no bye. Have no concern on the effort front. The Packers will go all out in this game.
Nonetheless, a road game against the Vikings is a tough challenge. The Vikings—led by running back and MVP-candidate Adrian Peterson—are on a three-game winning streak, including wins over the Bears and the Houston Texans.
The Packers are being treated as 3.5-point favorites according to Vegas Insider. This is perhaps slightly generous, considering how hot the Vikings have been. Either way, the Packers deserve to be favored in this one. This should be a quality game, and hopefully Giants fans will have a reason to watch it.
If by virtue of good fortune the Giants are still alive at sunset Sunday evening, they will have one last game to watch. The last game of the 2012 NFL season features the Washington Redskins hosting the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants need the Redskins to win this game.
If the Cowboys win, then the Giants are out. Both the Redskins and Cowboys would be 9-7, and both teams hold tiebreakers over New York due to division record. The Giants would fall to third place in the NFC East, and none of the inter-division tiebreakers would matter.
On the other hand, a Redskins victory would land Washington the division title at 10-6 and remove Dallas from the picture by sending them to 8-8. Fortunately for New York, the Redskins are favored in this game. According to Bet Online, they are three-point favorites. This spread is reasonable. It is the typical three-point boost given to home teams in otherwise equal match-ups.
One has to anticipate rookie sensation Robert Griffin III playing a big role in this game. Recently named to the Pro Bowl, RGIII has had one of the best rookie quarterback seasons in NFL history. For the first time, Giants fans may have to watch RGIII and root for him, because their playoff hopes may rest on his shoulders.
Obviously the odds are against the Giants heading into the final day of the regular season. There are four games left to care about, and they need all four to go their way.
New York is being given a six-percent chance to make the playoffs by MakeNFLPlayoffs.com. That is a reasonable mark to set. The odds of four coin tosses coming up heads is six percent, so the people making that prediction are essentially treating the four games as random.
One small cause for optimism is that in three out of the four games, Giants fans are rooting for the favorites. They only need one upset to occur, which is for the Lions to beat the Bears. Given that, the odds may be slightly higher, though they are probably not more than ten percent.
Disregarding the odds, Sunday remains relevant for New York. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. The Giants need four things to happen. If they all do, then they will have reason to celebrate by midnight.