In the middle of October, the New York Giants were a football team that had won 21 of its previous 26 games.
In the middle of November, they may be one home loss (Atlanta) away from their season coming to an unofficial end.
Mathematically, a 5-5 record in the floundering NFC would not eliminate the Giants by any means. But a third straight home loss to a team that has yet to beat a 10-win team on the road in the Mike Smith era would confirm what many currently believe: that the Giants are simply not good enough to earn one of six NFC playoff slots.
The Falcons are not a bad team by any means. With the reliable Tony Gonzalez drawing coverage away from the explosive Roddy White, the Falcons passing attack is something to be reckoned with. And after a slow start, Michael Turner has compiled 300 rushing yards in his last two games and is on pace for twenty touchdowns.
But there are holes around the team that detract from the skill players, er, skills. Through eight games, Matt Ryan has thrown just one less interception than he did in all of 2008. And after a stellar first two months of the season, the offensive line has allowed Ryan to be sacked ten times in his last three games.
Defensively, the Falcons leave something to be desired. They have relinquished nearly 370 yards per game, which is good for 24th in the NFL. Additionally, they are ranked 31st in defending third downs.
Most importantly, the Falcons are 0-3 against teams with a record better than .500 in 2009, losing by a combined score of 98-58. Their record on the road is a mere 1-3.
While the Giants aren’t exactly world-beaters at this juncture of the season, there is certainly no reason the Giants should lose this game if they plan on making a run late in the season. And if they squander this opportunity, their season may be effectively over.
Couple that uphill battle with the fact that a loss to the Falcons would be the Giants fourth loss in the NFC and their prospects would be even bleaker. With a win over the Panthers on Sunday, the Falcons would march into Giants Stadium with a 6-3 record.
If the Giants falter once again and the Falcons leave Giants Stadium with a 7-3 record, the Giants would effectively be three games trailing one Wild Card slot with six games to go.
The other Wild Card is likely to be the Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys, whom the Giants play in back-to-back weeks in December. Each squad is playing well right now, and it is certainly realistic that whichever team doesn’t win the division will enter the playoffs via the Wild Card.
For the Giants to be able to pull off a miracle run following a potential loss to the Falcons, it would have to start with a flight out West on three days rest to face the Denver Broncos. Defeating the Broncos at Invesco Field is an incredibly challenging task, especially in a do-or-die situation. The Broncos biggest strength is protecting the quarterback and spreading out the field, which appears to be the kryptonite for the Giants defense. That could be a task too tough to handle.
Antonio Pierce, your calendar needs some tweaking. Your Super Bowl is against the Falcons, not the Chargers.