By Paul Dottino
So exactly what is the value in the Giants dusting themselves off from the past five quarters during which they lost control of their playoff destiny? Well, it may mean Tom Coughlin’s job.
Giants co-owner John Mara will follow franchise protocol and put off his evaluation until after the season is over, but – given Coughlin’s body of work over the past seven seasons (four playoff berths, including a Super Bowl title) – it’s more than likely that he’s looking for reasons to keep the coach rather than to fire him. Along those lines, a 10-6 non-playoff finish probably will be enough to save Coughlin’s job although his staff might take a few hits. But a season-ending collapse over the final three games easily could seal Coughlin’s departure, given how angry Mara was with last season’s uninspired finish.
What are the Giants’ prospects of making the playoffs? We know they need to beat Washington and get a Chicago win over Green Bay. The Giants have been in this position a few times before and, ironically, the Packers were involved twice. In 1981, the Giants beat Dallas in overtime and made the playoffs when the Jets knocked off the Packers the following day. In 1994, the Giants beat Dallas but were left out when Green Bay got in by defeating Tampa Bay.
The Bears, who will know if their very slim chance at the NFC’s No. 1 seed has vanished before their 4 o’clock kickoff at Lambeau Field, have just two reasons to beat the arch-rival Packers: They want to keep them out of the playoffs and Chicago is unhappy with the way its defense played last week in beating the Jets and badly wants to round it into playoff form. The Bears-Packers and Giants-Redskins will kick off at the same time, so have fun tracking both games.
You don’t think it’s going to work out for the Giants? We’ll leave you with this anecdote from linebacker Keith Bulluck, who was with Tennessee in 2006: “We had to beat New England and like three teams had to win and a team had to lose. And you know what? We wound up losing to New England [40-23], but the four different scenarios that had to happen for us to make the playoffs happened – except for us winning. So it was a crazy scenario, but if we would have won that game we would have been in the playoffs. … So we definitely need to go out to Washington and win.”
Let’s get to the three key matchups:
Giants RBs Brandon Jacobs (774 yards, 5.8 avg., 8 TDs) and Ahmad Bradshaw (1,213 yards-4.6-8) vs. Redskins MLB London Fletcher (171 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 FF, 3 FR). Fletcher is a tackling machine who roams all over the field. Even when teams pile up yardage – as the Giants did when they ran for 197 yards and four TDs in their 31-7 rout four weeks ago – Fletcher finds a way to be around the ball: He intercepted a pass intended for Kevin Boss in the end zone. The Giants could us a repeat performance out of that running game so that they don’t feel compelled to rely too heavily on the pass as they did last weekend in Green Bay or against Philadelphia.
Redskins WRs Santana Moss (84 catches-1,041-12.4-6) and Anthony Armstrong (42-787-18.7-2) vs. RCB Terrell Thomas (93 tackles, 5 INTs) and LCB Corey Webster (49 tackles, 4 INTs). The Giants’ corners gave far too much space to Green Bay’s receivers last week and must get back to being physical at the line. Moss is a craft veteran who’s usually very good at route-running and getting yards after the catch and the speedy Armstrong has become the Redskins’ primary big-play threat downfield. Thomas and Webster ought to let them know they’re in for a tag-team wrestling match from the opening drive.
Giants LBs Jonathan Goff (65 tackles) and Keith Bulluck (26 tackles) vs. Redskins RB Ryan Torain (681 yds, 4.7 avg, 4 TDs). Torain has run for 290 yards on 54 carries over the past three weeks, including a 172-yard effort against Tampa Bay. The point is that the Redskins, who ran 16 times for 74 yards in last month’s loss to the Giants, have gotten back to trying to move the chains on the ground. They were much too happy to rely on the pass earlier this season and they didn’t have enough weapons to do so. Goff has been an inconsistent playmaker and Bulluck often sits because of the Giants’ three-safety package – but both likely will be called upon to have a busy day and want to force easily-flustered QB Rex Grossman into obvious passing situations.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Redskins 17
PREDICTION RECORD: 9-6 (7-8 vs. the spread)