Saturday, November 20, 2010

Show yourself!

You know how in kids' cartoons like X-Men, when there is a shape-shifter, the other characters never know if they're speaking with the real person? Is this really Logan in front of them or just Mystique in disguise? The personality seems a little off but everything else is a perfect double. This analogy is only slightly apt.

The New York Giants are a shape-shifter of sorts. The problem is, rather than just having to wait 22 minutes until the episode is over, we might be forced to wait another three weeks until the real team reveals itself.

You see, it is quite possible the New York Giants are a terrible team masquerading as the best team in the NFC. It is also equally as possible that they are a Super Bowl contender showing the facade of a team that will miss the playoffs.

To try to figure out which is the real Giants squad, let's start with the good.

They are 6-3 right now. They are in a tie for first place in their division. They are only one game out of having the best record in the conference. The Giants have, statistically, the number one total defense in the entire league. Yes, number one. Look it up. To round out the argument for them being a Super Bowl contender, to go along with their top ranked defense, they also have the number two rated offense in the entire NFL. Number one and number two. Can't get much better than that. Throw in the fact that the Giants won five straight games before last week, and they have a good case for being the best NFC team.

However, is that a description of the real Giants or is this? Their most recent game was a thumping at the hands of the disastrously messed up Dallas Cowboys. Because of that loss, there are six other NFC teams with a record the same or better than the Giants right now. To make matters worse, when they play poorly, they play reeeally poorly. The Giants were not close in any of their three losses. All three were blowouts, with the closest one actually being the Cowboys game, a 13 point deficit.

The reason for this is turnovers. The Giants rank in the bottom third in the NFL in turnover differential, a stat that many believe is the most important to any coach. Because of a lack of care for the ball in many games, the Giants actually looked very bad even in some of their wins, namely the Panthers game and the Lions game. To top things off, the Giants are getting injured heading into December, rather than getting healthy. Their best possession receiver, Steve Smith, just went down. They also just lost their starting left tackle, David Diehl, to add to their injured center, the two most important linemen on a roster. Throw in the fact that the Giants still have to play their most deadly NFC East rival, the Eagles, twice in the final seven weeks, and getting into the playoffs seems like a pipe dream at this point.

So, which is it? Who are the real New York Giants? There are two easy answers. The first is, "I have no idea." The second is, "They are somewhere in between." Picking either of those answers would be pretty lazy of me though.

To find out the truth, let's examine the good to see if it's all actually good, and vice versa with the bad.

The Giants have the number one defense and number two offense in the NFL. These are facts. Digging a little deeper however, we see that they are just 14th in the league in points allowed per game, probably a more important stat than yardage allowed. So their defense is perhaps closer to middle of the road than actually number one. Also, the defense has been buoyed by a couple dominating performances that may have skewed the total numbers. This Giants team demolished the Bears and Jay Cutler in week four, and embarrassed the Seahawks in week nine. In those two games, the Giants allowed a combined total of 272 yards from scrimmage and 10 points. That is from both games combined.

The offensive ranking is a little misleading as well. They are still in the top ten in the league in points scored per game, however, they seem to score in bunches, and only score in wins. They are only averaging 14 points per game in their losses, while in their wins they put up 32 points a game. These numbers are going to be far apart for most teams, but the great teams don't get routinely blown out. That is the conclusion to draw from this. The Giants are not managing to keep games close when they're behind.

And yes, the Giants are truly only a game out of first place in the conference, with only three losses. Yet so is half the NFC. So the good stuff isn't all good. What about the bad?

Well, the G-Men did get thumped by the Cowboys, but I actually expected the loss. Rather than seeing the Cowboys as a disaster of a franchise and playing them with Wade Phillips as their coach and with all the players having quit on him, the Giants instead had to face the Cowboys in their first game under Jason Garrett. Thus, Dallas would not only be invigorated under the new leader, but also playing their hearts out to prove it was not the players' fault. The first eight games were Wade Phillips' fault. If they laid another egg in week ten, suddenly Wade gets a pass and people realize this roster is crap and players need to get cut. Instead, they play their best game of the season against a Giants team that, admittedly, looked a little flat, and now the blame gets thrown entirely on Wade because he couldn't motivate these guys like Jason Garrett did. Dallas needed to win last week if only for those players to keep their jobs for the rest of the season.

The injuries are also a concern, but New York has stayed relatively healthy compared to other teams. They lost Mathias Kiwanuka for the year over a month ago, but have other players at his position to cover the loss. The same goes for Steve Smith and David Diehl. Although the replacements may be a shade worse, Mario Manningham and Shawn Andrews are talented players who I have confidence in.

So the bad has some silver linings as well. That means, we are still stuck. Is this a good team or a bad team? In the end, it comes down to match-ups. Everything in the NFL always does. Any team can beat anyone else on any Sunday of the year.

In the Giants' remaining seven games they play Philadelphia twice, Washington twice, home against Jacksonville, at Minnesota and at Green Bay. If we conservatively give the Giants splits against both the Eagles and Redskins, that puts them at 8-5. They would need to win two of the remaining three games to get to 10 wins, the normal playoff threshold. I see that as quite doable, especially since Minnesota's season might be over by this coming Monday. The question then is 10 wins going to be good enough?

To be comfortable, the Giants would need to sweep the Redskins, rather than take a split, and get to 11 wins. That should be good enough for a wild card even if Philly manages to top that. If New York gets in to the playoffs, I am feeling good. For some reason, Eli Manning makes people upset. Giants fans don't like him and opponents don't think he's any good. Well I am one Giants fan who is on Eli's side. I would put him in the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. Come playoff time, I feel confident with Eli under center, no matter who that center happens to be. With a fantastic running game and great pass rush, this team is built for the playoffs. Let's just hope they get in.

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