The Giants are in. Or almost certain to be one of the six teams representing the National Football Conference when the playoffs begin a little more than two weeks from today. A win over the Philadelphia Eagles tonight (Thursday, 8:25 p.m.) on the road at Lincoln Financial Field would boost the Giants’ record to 11-4 and guarantee their place in the postseason tournament.
The Giants’ 17-6 victory over the Detroit Lions Sunday at home was sizable in its importance if not the final score. By the end of the weekend, they held the second best record in the NFC and the top wildcard spot, trailing only the four respective division leaders—the top seeded Dallas Cowboys (12-2), the second seeded Seattle Seahawks (9-4), the third seeded Atlanta Falcons (9-5) and the fourth seeded Detroit Lions (9-5).
The Giants will end the regular season on New Year’s Day against 7-6-1 Washington on the road, whose 26-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers Monday essentially ended their playoff aspirations. Although the Giants’ offense has failed to establish itself as a consistently effective unit, the defense continues to rise statistically and empirically as one of the best in the NFL.
Safety Landon Collins, a NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate, has arguably been the catalyst for the defense’s resurgence. His 108 tackles and five interceptions are the most on the team. A season ago, Collins’ rookie season, the Giants were ranked 32nd and last overall in the league, allowing 420 yards per outing and 27.6 points per game. One year later, they have markedly reduced those numbers to 347.5 and 17.9. Although they are 15th in the defensive rankings, the consensus among most astute observers of the NFL is the Giants are one of the top five groups in football.
Their stark improvement has manifested in the Giants reversing a trend of losing a multitude of close games in 2015 because of the defense’s inability to produce late fourth quarter stops. This season, it has become a hallmark of their success. Collins attributes the turnaround in large part to the offseason additions, most notably cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
“Definitely the guys we brought in,” said Collins after Sunday’s win. “The defensive front has been awesome, getting pressure on quarterbacks.”
Tuesday, Collins and Jenkins were named to the Pro Bowl. Vernon and Harrison should also have received the honor. Harrison, although inarguably one of the best run stoppers in the sport, is not convinced the Giants stifling defense is among the NFL’s elite.
“No sir,” he responded via a conference call. “You hear me say that time and time again.” Harrison was signed by the Giants as a free-agent last summer after he had spent the previous three seasons with the Jets.
“We’re still not where we should be or where we want to be right now,” he said. “You can ask anyone around the defense, any player or coach, and they’ll tell you.”
Although Harrison may be accurate in his assessment that the Giants’ ceiling is still higher, they’ve been good enough to carry the team to the doorstop of their first playoff appearance since the 2011 season.