There is not a doubt in people’s minds — Giants fans’ minds, to be exact — that the G-Men don’t have what it takes to make a Super Bowl run. It’s never a good idea to bet against Eli Manning as an underdog in the playoffs. The Giants, remember, usually produce down the stretch in the wild card round to keep their hopes alive and ride a hot streak to the Super Bowl. This is exactly why it’s never good to write them off because they are capable of making any sort of run.
You can’t count them out. You can’t.
The Giants are normally one of the more surprising teams in football in late December, early January. This is, after all, the time of the year that Eli recaptures that mojo and playoff magic, the time of year that this team beats everybody standing in its way. Whether it’s done by swagger, by luck or by skill, Manning plays like a two-time Super Bowl champion and produces some of the most clutch playoff performances this time of year that still resonates with fans. It’s unreal, whatever it, and that’s what we know about the New York Giants.
We’ve seen this before. We’ve seen this January movie before when Manning was at the top of his game for those memorable playoff runs after the 2007 and 2011 seasons that silenced his doubters. The Giants are far from dominant, far from it, but they’re getting hot at the right time. The games late in the season, whatever the score was, mattered even if they’d lost the division title and instead clinched a wild card berth.
Every team, no matter how you start or finish, enters with a clean slate — undefeated, 0-0. Never mind that Eli was not very good for much of the season and turned it over way too much. Never mind that the Giants fierce defense made up for any deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball. Never mind that they don’t run the ball well, and that they don’t take care of the ball, and NY receivers have too many dropped balls.
While it remains to be seen whether they make another deep playoff run and have a chance, if any, to play into January, the team has slowly blossomed after early struggles. It has become commonplace that the Giants run the table this time of year in the march to the Super Bowl, with Playoff Eli unleashing his playoff magic. It’s understandable, of course, that many of the NY fans are optimistic, since the Giants are revisiting familiar territory after having missed the playoffs every year since Tom Coughlin won his second Super Bowl after the 2011 regular season.
There is absolutely much they have to change against the red-hot Packers on Sunday under first-year head coach Ben McAdoo, or they’ll find themselves out of contention. There’s been much ado about party-hearty receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz taking a Miami trip on their day off and partying with Justin Bieber and Trey Songz on a yacht.
If that is indeed what everybody is dwelling on, worried more about than a passive Giants running game, then his or her priorities are out of whack. As much as people want to ponder this team’s growth and late-season winning streak, which have dictated their path to the playoffs, there’s much to be concerned about. The more interesting question is what they are capable of once the playoffs get under way. The upside for the Giants is that Manning’s numbers are solid, even though he needs to perform better than what he has in recent weeks, especially to make up for the team’s inability to run the ball effectively for a huge chunks of yardage. It is mind-boggling that they rank 27th in the NFL with 83.6 rushing yards per game, which puts them at the bottom of the league.
They’ve shown a sign of more problems, with a passing game that incorporates no play-action and bootlegs, despite their quick-footed defensive backs and the strength of their defensive front. But, as of late, Manning has done a terrific job of limiting his turnovers and delivering it to his intended receivers. It’s almost as if opposing defenses are daring and forcing Manning to throw the ball. At this time of year, the offense is going to need more plays from Manning and is going to need Cruz and Beckham to make plays with their quick hands and nifty feet — or else that winning formula won’t be as reliable in these playoffs.
Becoming a two-time Super Bowl MVP, banking a median wage of $21 million a year, appearing in a DirecTV commercial dressed in a banana suit dancing awkwardly, Manning is in the playoffs for the sixth time in his 13-year career. There’s always been this belief that he owns the playoffs because he not only transcends the game but he also produces triumphant victories when it matters. So when Manning, who is 8-3 in the playoffs, led his Giants back to the playoffs after a drought, the hope of ending the red-hot Packers’ season is deeply ingrained in the minds of fans.
He’s the epitome of a miracle-working quarterback, the best of them all in terms of late-game winning drives he’s put together in the final minutes of each of the Super Bowl victories against the Patriots. All of his playoff victories, every last one of them, have come in Super Bowl years. Might I add he went 6-0 on the road in the playoffs in the Super Bowl years? He has a chance of being crowned a champion for a third time, and the nation seemed to wake up a bit.
Finishing the season 11-5, after a slow start and woefully underachieving, the vaunted Giants defense has shown vast improvements. A defensive resurgence that can be attributed to this aggressive and relentless style of play under the brilliant mind of Steve Spagnuolo carried them to the playoffs. A tsunami of momentum that has fueled a late-season surge moved them above the .500 mark and made everyone take notice. This Giants team is surprisingly not flying under the radar because of its impressive defense. It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen this season, but with them having confidence and plenty of moxie, they can realistically ride a winning steak deep into January and travel to Houston for a game on Sunday Feb. 5.
The change that has come on defense is the rising star Landon Collins, and while he’s not the best at covering, he’s making a strong case as one of the league’s best defensive backs with his versatility to bolster a monster secondary. And because of his consistent playmaking, he puts himself firmly in conversation for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
The defense raised its game this season, as well, with the high-risk signing of ex-Ram cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Then, general manager Jerry Reese addressed the corner position with his first-round pick, choosing Ohio State standout Eli Apple. The move to select an athletic and gifted defensive back from college wasn’t as risky as, say, giving Jenkins a five-year, $62.5 million contract in free agency. The reality was that he was talented but his off-field troubles have been well documented, and with perceived negative character issues, there were plenty of questions about him, particularly when the Giants’ Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was playing the corner position.
Even as Reese raised more eyebrows when he signed free-agent defensive end Olivier Vernon, never was it a bad investment to bestow him with $52.5 million in total guarantees, or $1.8 million for each sack during his four seasons. Then he locked up defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for one year and $10 million. And this is part of the reason the Giants defense has been the focal point of a new-look team after spending money to become elite. With an offense nearly not as good as the defense, any team that faces the Giants have a tough task, and it won’t be easy to oust a stout defense.
The talk of the moment of course is what Playoff Eli may have up his sleeve on offense, with the help of a defensive unit that has been upgraded for better, not worse. And, going into these playoffs, nothing seems to stand in the way of what could be a giant playoff run for the Big Blue.