Let’s talk about the New York Giants.
They might just be the hottest team in the NFL right now, having won seven of their last eight contests and (in doing so) vaulting themselves from the pits of mediocrity into the fifth seed in the NFC. A playoff berth is well within reach for a team reconciling a five-year postseason drought. But – as always seems to be the question with Big Blue – are they actually good?
Well, that’s a loaded question. New York currently sits at 9-4, second place in the NFC East, with its nine wins coming against competition with a combined record of 51-65-1. Take out two victories over the NFC-leading Cowboys and that record dips to 29-61-1. Their margin of victory in these contests? 4.9 points. The only team they’ve defeated by more than one possession is 0-13 Cleveland.
All this goes to say, the Giants have had their work cut out for them this season. For the most part, though, they’ve taken care of business, and that means something. There’s something to be said for beating teams you’re supposed to; New York’s aforementioned five-year postseason drought has been littered with embarrassing losses to teams the Giants of old would’ve brushed to the side as – well – a giant might a pesky fly buzzing around its ear.
But really good teams, Super Bowl contender type teams, are supposed to win those kinds of games with more grace. That was the prevailing narrative going into Sunday night’s matchup with Dallas. It seemed like New York was to finally be exposed. But, in the spirit of the holidays, the ghosts of Giants’ defenses past saved the night at MetLife Stadium.
It was almost incomprehensible to watch. A unit that, since Eli Manning last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, has ranked (on average) 25th in the NFL in total defense took probably the most talent-saturated offense in the league and berated them into a quivering pulp. Dak Prescott appeared indecisive and jittery for the first time in his stellar rookie campaign. Dez Bryant caught one ball in the game and fumbled it two steps after securing it. An offense averaging 26.2 points per game in 2016 could only muster seven at the Meadowlands in Week 14.
Statistically, this “$100 million” defense hasn’t always been as dominant as it looked Sunday night, though. Sure, the Giants boast the fourth-ranked third down defense in football and they’ve been phenomenal against the run all year, but their secondary has shown its holes at times and despite bursts of dynamism from its defensive line, New York ranks 29th in the NFL in sacks.
It just doesn’t make any sense. In an article debating the New York Giants’ status as contenders, I haven’t mentioned Eli Manning or Odell Beckham once. Even on the strength of a two-time Super Bowl MVP, possibly the most prolific receiver in the league and a multitude of other weapons, New York’s offense has been one of the most futile in football in recent weeks. The threat of this unit hitting it stride is ever-present, but, to this point, it truly has been all about the defense.
They’ve had their moments this season, but I’m still not ready to call the Giants Super Bowl contenders, or even NFC divisional round contenders. What’s undeniable, though, is that this team is unpredictable. Unstable. Its identity is ever changing. They don’t always appear threatening, they don’t always win pretty, but that’s how the Giants have always operated. And as long as they continue to win, any team in their postseason path should remain wary.