Can the New York Giants Actually Win the NFC East?

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Can the New York Giants Actually Win the NFC East?
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Since the NFL adopted its current playoff format in 1990, not a single team has made the playoffs after starting 0-5. With that in mind, the New York Giants started the 2013 season 0-6, but back-to-back victories have given them life in the NFL's worst division. 

“I know no team’s [started] 0-6 and made the playoffs, but why not now and why not us?” said linebacker Jon Beason after the Giants defeated the Philadelphia Eagles on the road Sunday, according to ESPN.com.

“We’re hungry to prove everybody wrong, because everybody has written us off," added punter Steve Weatherford in the same piece. 

They haven't looked particularly good in either victory, but it's not as though their NFC East peers have been much better.

With the rest of the division having lost in Week 8, the Giants are just two games in back of the first-place Dallas Cowboys, one game behind the second-place Eagles and a half-game in back of the third-place Washington Redskins

How bad is the NFC East?
Record outside division Point dif. +.500 teams
AFC West 19-5 +219 3
NFC West 14-6 +106 2
AFC East 10-9 -85 1
NFC North 10-9 +19 3
AFC North 10-9 -4 1
NFC South 8-12 +69 2
AFC South 8-17 -195 1
NFC East 5-14 -129 0

NFL.com

The seemingly snakebitten Cowboys lack consistency thanks in part to a plague of injuries on defense. If indeed they're the same old Cowboys, they'll be 8-8, which means a 6-2 finish could get the Giants into a tiebreaker scenario. 

The Eagles have scored exactly three points on offense the last two weeks, and their three victories this season have come against three teams that had not won a game prior to those matchups. 

The 'Skins can't stop anybody, and Robert Griffin III has struggled. They're 0-2 within the division, and neither of their two victories were impressive. They've yet to play the Giants, so that's no sweat.

Everybody's ready to write off Chip Kelly's Eagles and Mike Shanahan's Redskins while the Cowboys have few believers left after another choke-job Sunday in Detroit. But somebody has to win this division, and the Giants are suddenly the hottest team in the picture. 

They've won back-to-back games in uncharacteristic fashion, beating two mediocre teams in sloppy contests. The offense hasn't become much more lethal, but they're shooting themselves in the foot a lot less often while the Giants defense has come out of nowhere to gain some serious respect. 

In fact, the defense hasn't given up a single point since a Week 6 loss to Chicago. Since then, the Giants defense shut out both the Vikings and Eagles, with Minnesota and Philadelphia scoring once each on special teams. 

Of course, the Giants also failed to score a touchdown on Sunday against a pretty shabby Philly defense. They've still got a lot of issues to iron out and they'll have to deal with some much tougher opponents—Green Bay, Dallas, San Diego, Seattle and Detroit, to name a few—when they start the second half of the season after their Week 9 bye. 

New York Giants: 2013 schedule
Combined record Combined winning %
First-half opponents 34-27 .557
Second-half opponents 32-27 .542

Pro Football Reference

I've made it clear time and again that I don't believe in this Giants team. They lack talent in too many spots and two wins like those isn't enough to change my mind. To wit:

  • The special teams play has been a mess (Football Outsiders ranked them 31st in football in that area heading into Week 8, and they gave up another special-teams touchdown against the Eagles).
  • Even after a four-sack showing in Philly, they still rank 31st in the league in that category.
  • They're averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, which ranks 29th in the NFL.
  • The defense still ranks 29th in points allowed.
  • They're still sloppy. Only four teams have been penalized more.
  • The offensive line and backfield have been rocked by injuries. 
  • They benefited from matchups with two teams dealing with horrendous quarterback situations over the last two weeks. 

Plus, the Giants are usually strong starters and slow finishers, with November causing them a ton of problems. I just can't see this team going 6-2 or better to finish the year, especially with that schedule. 

New York Giants under Tom Coughlin
2004-2012 November Every other month
Record 13-21 70-40
Winning percentage .382 .636

Pro Football Reference

However, I'm not sure I believe in anyone in that division right now, and the Giants have made a habit of overcoming long-shot odds over the years.

How many of us counted them out when they lost four straight games in November and December in 2011? They were just 7-7 entering Week 16 that season, but they went on to win the damn Super Bowl. Ditto for the 2007 season, when they were merely a wild-card entry in the NFC playoffs, but wound up slaying the 18-0 Patriots in that year's Super Bowl. 

The point is that crazier things have happened to this very team...twice. 

So I'd never be crazy enough to bet against Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. Fortunately, I'm not a professional sports bettor. As a sports writer, I can confidently suggest that the Giants were probably given false hope by what has happened the last two weeks and that the hole they dug to start the season will prove to be too deep to escape, even for Coughlin and Manning.

I think.

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