By Neil Keefe
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I can’t believe we’re here again. Well, I guess I can believe it since it’s happening, and we’re actually here, so maybe the right thing to say is: How did we get here again?

“Here” is the New York Football Giants playing a regular season game for their postseason life. There will be new players next year like there were this year and last year and the year before that and the year before that, but this day will come again next year too like the annual occurrence of a high school graduation. The names and faces change, but the day and the results still happen. The only difference is this year the decisive game isn’t against the Eagles because they have already done their yearly damage to the Giants. This game is against the Cowboys.

When the Giants lost to the Packers on Sunday, I wasn’t even upset. I watched Mason Crosby drill the game-winning 31-yard field goal and I walked out of the room and went and ate dinner. I didn’t even really think about the game after it was over because I didn’t need to. I knew the Giants would drag me along, and score the necessary touchdown and then convert the crucial two-point conversion only to let Aaron Rodgers go down the field in four seconds to set up Crosby’s field goal. And if the Giants didn’t lose as time expired in regulation, they would have just used the commercial break before overtime to sharpen the dagger that they would deliver to me in overtime.

The Giants shouldn’t be in this spot, but they are. They’re in this spot because they lost to Rex Grossman and Charvaris Whiteson and Vince Young and because they couldn’t beat Alex Smith and because they didn’t even show up to play against Drew Brees. Now their back is against the wall, and they’re handcuffed to a steam pipe above their head like Liam Neeson in Taken. No one is going to help them. They either break the pipe, kill a series of guards and then tell Patrice Saint Clair it was “personal” before unloading the rest of the clip on him, or they can just give up after coming this far.

The problem is everyone is all about the Giants this week. The way they played against the Packers has been compared to their loss against the Patriots in Week 17 in 2007, and I have never seen so much praise for a team that just lost for the fourth week in a row. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been sitting in my room all week with a box of tissues trying to figure out why the Giants are at .500 … because it feels like they won. Because that is the angle that has been taken.

It’s only the NFL. Wins and losses don’t matter! It’s how you play the game! Everyone’s a winner! Everyone’s the best! Everyone gets a medal and a trophy! Why do we even keep records or divide teams into divisions and conferences and then have playoffs and name a champion if losing for one straight month can be forgotten by a “winning performance” in a loss? Sure, there were promising signs from the loss and things to feel good about heading into the Cowboys game, but the Giants still lost. They still lost a game at home, and they still haven’t won since Nov. 6 (33 days ago).

Now the perception of the Giants this week is that they are the favorite to win a game on the road against their rival in which they are actually a three-point underdog, and nothing is scarier than hype around the Giants. The Giants don’t like hype, and they don’t like pressure. They don’t respond well to hype, and they don’t respond well to pressure. When the Giants attract attention, they are miserable. When they are flying under the radar and a forgotten team, that’s when they are dangerous.

But despite losing four games in a row and watching their two-game lead in the division turn into a one-game deficit over that time, the Giants have managed to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture. It seems like every season around this time you hear, “The Giants have lost “x” number of games in “x” number of weeks, but somehow they can still win the division and make the playoffs.” It happened in 2010. It happened in 2009. It’s happening again in 2011.

This game on Sunday Night Football in Dallas isn’t just one game that will determine whether the Giants will take over the lead in the division, or need substantial help down the stretch to reach the playoffs. This game is way more important than being just win or loss. This one 60-minute game where a turnover or bad decision could lose the game has the power to change the future of the franchise.

If the Giants win, they take over first place in the NFC East and continue to control their own destiny, and they host the Redskins next week, and some of the pressure is removed.

If the Giants lose, they fall two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East and would need a lot of help over the last three games of the season (no one is going to help the Giants), and wholesale coaching changes and possible front office and personnel changes will follow the regular season if there isn’t a second season.

The Giants haven’t stopped a second-half collapse in the Tom Coughlin era. (Yes, their free fall in 2006 resulted in a playoff berth, but it took losses from the Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks and 49ers in Week 16 to save the Giants season.) When these second-half disasters begin they don’t end until the final second of the final game of the season has elapsed. Then the Giants return the following season, get off to a great start only to lose it all again.

For some reason and I’m really not sure why, I think the Giants are going to save the day, stop the seemingly inevitable collapse and rescue the jobs of those in danger. Nothing from this season or past seasons suggest that I should feel or think this way, but I’m optimistic about the position the Giants are in if they can win on Sunday night. And if they lose, I’m more than prepared for how to physically and emotionally handle the idea of another football postseason without the Giants, and I proved that last week against the Packers.

But if I’m right, and if we’re lucky, and if the Giants can survive this Sunday, we’ll get to do this all again in Week 17.

Week 14 … let’s go!

(Home team in caps)

PITTSBURGH -14 over Cleveland
I made this pick yesterday on Twitter. If only I could predict quarterback injuries then I would have gone with the Browns. I actually wanted to go with the Browns anyway (no this isn’t me being a Monday Morning Quarterback … well, it kind of it is) since the Steelers rarely ever cover a two-touchdown spread. 0-1 to start the week isn’t where I wanted to be.

BALTIMORE -16.5 over Indianapolis
I know what the Colts did last week against the Patriots, and I know they haven’t lost by 14 or more since Nov. 6, which is somewhat of an accomplishment. But I haven’t taken the Colts since Week 1, and I’m not about to start taking them again.

CINCINNATI -3 over Houston
The Texans have won games started by Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates. I’m beginning to think they could win a game started by Jared Lorenzen, and that scares me.

Kansas City +10.5 over NEW YORK JETS
I think the Jets will win and end up making the playoffs, but I never like them needing to cover spreads more than three points. 10.5? I will gladly take the points and hope that Tyler “I’m Still Working On A Great Nickname For Him” Palko can score first, and then it will be up to Mark Sanchez to need to play from behind to cover.

Minnesota +10 over DETROIT
Remember when the Lions looked like a serious contender? That was fun.

New Orleans -4 over TENNESSEE
Drew Brees ripped apart the Giants on Monday Night Football and then the Lions on Sunday Night Football. The Saints out of their element of the Superdome is always a scary proposition (see: Week 8 at St. Louis).

MIAMI -3 over Philadelphia
According to Peter King, the Dolphins are better than the Giants and the Cowboys. It doesn’t matter that the Dolphins have a worse record than both teams or that the Dolphins lost to both teams. Nope, all that matters is what happened most recently, and most recently the Dolphins are 4-1 in their last five games. The first seven weeks of the season when they were 0-7? Those obviously don’t count or matter.

New England -8 over WASHINGTON
Someone is going to take the Redskins in this game. That someone isn’t me. I’m just thankful that the Colts were able to keep it close against the Patriots and prevent this line from being in the double digits.

CAROLINA +3 over Atlanta
This pick is more about me wanting the Falcons to lose to keep that postseason back door unlocked for the Giants in the event that they lose to the Cowboys and a whole lot of other events take place to make the NFC even more of a gongshow.

Tampa Bay -2 over JACKSONVILLE
One team is going to win by 21-plus in this game because this game has insanity written all over it. I’m hoping it’s the Bucs are the team that wins.

San Francisco -4 over ARIZONA
Thank you, Cardinals for beating the Cowboys in overtime last week. I guess I should really be thanking Jason Garrett for losing the game for his team. But instead of a Thank You note for the Cardinals’ effort, I decided to pick against them this week because the 49ers have given up 13 points in their last three games combined.

DENVER -3.5 over Chicago
Tim Tebow just wins games. Caleb Hanie just … he … umm … I don’t know? I mean he’s only thrown six interceptions in two games. At least he hasn’t thrown seven!

GREEN BAY -11.5 over Oakland
The Packers have been my bread and butter. That doesn’t change at home against Carson Palmer.

Buffalo +7 over SAN DIEGO
It’s not good to know that we live in a world where Vegas favors the Chargers by a touchdown because people will still pick them to cover. People do watch the games every week right? (Yes, I know that San Diego’s performance on Monday Night Football impacts the line, but it was the Jaguars. THE JAGUARS!)

New York Giants +3 over DALLAS
Did you read the intro?

SEATTLE -4.5 over St. Louis
Last week the two-win Rams were shut out by the 49ers in San Francisco. They are currently ranked 28th in passing yards, 27th in rushing yards and theater defense has allowed he most rushing yards in the NFL.

The Seahawks? They beat up on the hopeless Eagles a week ago to improve to 5-7. Now they have a chance to inch a game closer to .500.

Neither team has anything to play for … Is it Monday yet?

Last Week: 10-6-0
Season: 91-95-9

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

Will Keefe bust the .500 mark with his picks this week? Be heard in the comments below…

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