The New York Giants capturing a division title in 2013 should be a ridiculous notion.
They come out of their bye week with a 2-6 record and are in last place in the NFC East, trailing the division-leading Dallas Cowboys by two-and-a-half games. They have also already lost to their archrivals and own a far worse division and conference record than Dallas (more on this shortly).
The Giants, however, have proven in the past that they can overcome ridiculous odds.
They won the Super Bowl in 2007 as a wild card—capturing the title by winning four playoff games away from home, defeating the top two seeds on their way out of the NFC and then capping off the magical run by beating the seemingly unstoppable 18-0 New England Patriots.
Two years ago, they secured another championship, despite entering Week 16 at 7-7. They again beat the top two seeds in the NFC Playoffs on the road, including the defending champion Green Bay Packers, and then knocked off the Patriots for a second time in the Super Bowl.
If any team can be the first to make the playoffs after starting a season 0-6, it is the Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin-era Giants.
It will be a very difficult feat, though, because it is highly likely that the Giants will need at least eight wins to take the NFC East. This means going 6-2 in the second half against a schedule that includes five games versus teams that are at or above .500. To be fair, one of those teams, the 5-3 Packers will likely not have Aaron Rodgers, who broke his left collarbone Monday night against the Chicago Bears, when they face New York in two weeks.
Why won’t 7-9 be good enough to capture a division in which three of the four teams have losing records, and the first place squad is only 5-4? The answers (yes, there are several) lie in the chart below.
|NFC East Breakdown|
|Team||Overall Record||Division/Conference Record||Remaining Schedule|
|Cowboys||5-4||3-0/5-1||@NO, @NYG, vs.OAK, @CHI, vs.GB, @WAS, vs.PHI|
|Eagles||4-5||2-2/3-2||@GB, vs.WAS, vs.ARI, vs.DET, @MIN, vs.CHI, @DAL|
|Redskins||3-5||0-2/1-4||@MIN, @PHI, vs.SF, vs.NYG, vs.KAN, @ATL, vs.DAL, @NYG|
|Giants||2-6||1-2/2-4||vs.OAK, vs.GB, vs.DAL, @WAS, @SD, vs.SEA, @DET, vs.WAS|
Putting the Giants aside, since they obviously can go 7-9 given their current record, the other team that seems likely to have a losing season is the Redskins. Their schedule certainly appears to contain four losses, with home games against the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs, 6-2 San Francisco 49ers and Cowboys sandwiched around four road contests. Also, the Giants play the Redskins twice, so they have a chance to negatively affect Washington’s final record in a significant way.
Conversely, the Eagles can certainly win four games based on their schedule. The only matchup that seemed like a sure loss, next week in Green Bay, suddenly is very winnable with the aforementioned Rodgers injury almost definitely relegating him to the sidelines on Sunday afternoon.
Finally, we have the Cowboys. The only juicy game on their schedule is the Raiders in Week 13, so a 2-5 finish is certainly possible.
However, Big Blue better hope Dallas ends up at 7-9 because they probably won’t come out on top in a tiebreaker situation if both teams finish 8-8. Even if the Giants get past the first tiebreaker—head-to-head wins—they are not likely to win either the second tiebreaker, best division record, or the fourth, best conference record, given that the Cowboys have a healthy lead in both of those standings.
That leaves the third tiebreaker, common games. I won’t analyze the likelihood of the Giants coming out on top in this tiebreaker, since the next seven weeks will go a long way towards determining the outcome.
Nevertheless, out of the four tiebreakers, there is only one that the Giants can realistically win. Two out of three may not be bad, but one out of four certainly is not good.
So, if eight wins is the minimum threshold for a Giants division title, how do they get to this magic number and also put themselves in a good position with tiebreakers? Below is an aggressive three-step plan to accomplish both of these goals.
Step 1: Sweep the Upcoming Three-Game Home Stand
Completing this step would put the Giants at 5-6 and push their winning streak to five games. In addition, it would eliminate the stench of the 0-6 start and make an improbable run towards the playoffs seem doable.
Beating the Oakland Raiders, Packers and Cowboys at MetLife Stadium is possible. Oakland is 0-3 on the road and is coming off of an embarrassing home loss against the Eagles.
We already know the Packers game is winnable, and the Cowboys are dangerous but very beatable as well. As a case in point, New York turned the ball over six times and allowed two defensive touchdowns against them in Week 1, yet only lost by five points.
Step 2: Win Their Three Remaining Division Games
Accomplishing this step would mean a six-game winning streak for Big Blue, since New York plays the Redskins on the road after they complete the home stand.
The biggest advantage to winning their remaining division games, outside of the obvious, is that it puts them in a competitive position for the division record tiebreaker.
A 4-2 division record would give them a good chance of besting the Eagles, who currently stand at 2-2 in the NFC East. They would also have an opportunity to surpass the Cowboys as well, though Dallas only needs one more NFC East win in three tries to finish with a 4-2 division record.
Step 3: Win One Other Game That is Not Covered in the First Two Steps
Outside of the home stand and division games, the Giants face the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions on the road and the Seattle Seahawks at home in the second half. All three of these games will be tough wins, but Big Blue only needs to grab one victory.
It is preferable if the win is not against the Chargers, since NFC triumphs may be more important for the conference record tiebreaker.
Isolated, none of these steps seem overly difficult. They are linked, however, and must all be completed for a division title to become realistic.
It will require consistency from a team that righted the ship only two games ago, with back-to-back wins against sub-.500 teams.
It is certainly not likely that the Giants will go 8-8 and win the NFC East. But it is possible, and as recent Giants teams have shown, just the presence of hope can lead to a pretty incredible, improbable outcome.