You Take The Playoffs Every Time
12:45 PM EST on December 7, 2020
The New York Giants won a particularly stupid game, even by Giants standards, against the Seahawks on Sunday evening to rocket up to sole possession of first place in the NFC East by virtue of their nearly tolerable 5-7 record.
New York went into the half trailing 5-0 in Seattle, thanks to a Jason Myers field goal and a blocked-punt safety. They relied heavily on Alfred Morris, who put up his first two-TD game since Week 2—of 2014. Colt McCoy, somehow the best option under center in the absence of Daniel Jones, only picked up 105 yards on 22 throws. And yet, they came away victorious and in control of their own destiny as they eye a first-round home game that, incidentally, if the season ended this week, would be against the very Seahawks they just defeated.
The Giants managed the upset with a remarkable defensive performance that had Russell Wilson's passing game looking ordinary, even scared at times. They sacked the Seahawks QB on five occasions, mainly by playing tight coverage that forced Wilson to hold onto the football for up to five seconds at a time while looking for an open man. They also shifted momentum by forcing two turnovers—a second-quarter midfield fumble with the score 3-0, and an early fourth quarter pick—and they held the Seahawks to just 4-of-13 on third downs and 0-for-2 on fourth. And when the game was on the line with under a minute to go, it was team sack leader Leonard Williams who cut through the blockers to bring down Wilson on third-and-10, forcing a failed desperation heave on fourth that would all but close it out.
“We took just monster losses in the sacks that just take you out,” Pete Carroll said afterwards. “The whole drive is just totally challenged from there on because they weren’t like 6- or 8-yard sacks, they were like 20s. So, unfortunately, all of those situations just kept us from getting any momentum at all. We never got moving.”
The Giants still needed plenty of luck to swing this win—the line between a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a safety stands out as particularly thin. But given that this is the Giants' first win of the season against a team with an above-.500 record, and that it serves as an impressive new peak in a four-game winning streak, they and their fans should enjoy being division favorites rather than dwelling on just how poorly they've played for a majority of the year.
But not everyone would agree with that statement. Over at The Athletic this morning, Mike Sando devoted some inches to the "cost" of winning the division for the Giants or whoever takes the NFC East crown, noting that the NFL's draft order system slots all playoff teams below non-playoff teams, regardless of actual record. If the Giants finished 5-11, he notes, the average NFL Draft would put them between fifth and seventh. If they won their division, however, they would pick no earlier than 19th. Historically, the difference between what's available in those two ranges is quite significant if you're trying to build a real contender.
"Teams picking fifth through seventh had multiple chances for quarterbacks, elite receivers, elite corners, elite pass rushers, etc. Teams picking 19th through 21st were more apt to load up on centers and tight ends," Sando wrote. "If they did target premium positions in those slots, they were taking greater risk on prospects carrying questions."
Sando isn't the only one thinking over this dilemma. NJ.com beat writer Zack Rosenblatt wrote about the talent disparity between the two possible outcomes last week, and Trevor Sikkema at The Draft Network took an actively pro-tanking stance, calling this Sunday's outcome an "absolutely brutal win for the New York Giants."
Respectfully, Mr. Sikkema can shut the heck up. This isn't the Jets, choosing between a potential franchise quarterback and a lone win in a still-lost year. Even if the Giants' ongoing late-season breaks net them something like the fourth-ranked college receiver instead of Ja'Marr Chase this spring, and even if their trip to the postseason ends abruptly with an opening-round massacre at the hands of a revenge-minded Pete Carroll, it will have been worth it just to have experienced the postseason for the second time since Super Bowl XLVI. Admittedly, I am coming at this from the perspective of a Detroit Lions fan—so not only do I have no skin in this game but I also have a mind that has been completely warped by a team's failure to accomplish basic tasks in both the draft and the late weeks of the season—but holy shit you do not ever pass up the opportunity of the postseason just to hold out for the possibility of something better in the long term. You do not ever greet the prospect of additional football as a disappointment, or as something with a burdensome cost attached to it. You grab that one marshmallow and you eat it immediately, especially if you are the New York Giants.
Remember when a fifth-seeded Giants that went 4-4 after their bye week wheezed into the playoffs, and then destroyed the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl? Remember in 2011, when the Giants just barely finished above .500 after taking a four-game November losing streak on the chin, but still squeaked out the NFC East and dispatched all challengers to win it all again?
Conversely, do you remember 2008, when Tom Coughlin's team enjoyed a blisteringly hot 11-1 start and earned the top playoff seed in the NFC? No, of course you don't, because they bombed out to the Eagles 23-11 in the divisional round.
Point being, playoff outcomes have a large element of randomness, and while basic logic may tell us that a team with a record and point differential as bad as the Giants have right now cannot run the gauntlet, this franchise's own history begs to differ. And even if they do fall flat on their faces in the wild card game, just the fact that the Giants keep winning provides value to their fanbase in itself. Every day they're still involved in the playoff picture means another day where a Giants fan doesn't have to feel like an idiot for being invested in their team. Every win on Sunday just ever-so-slightly brightens the week ahead. There's nothing brutal about a team you like winning enough football games to stay relevant. Some fanbases would commit murder for the opportunity to yawn at that. So be grateful for this suddenly worthwhile platoon of Daniel Jones and Colt frickin' McCoy. You better ride it as far as it will take you, and you sure as hell better do it with a smile on your face.