EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The very premise of what you are about to read is ridiculous. The idea that a football team that has lost four games in a row to drop its record to 6-6 has reason to feel better about its playoff chances than the team one game in front of it in the standings? Doesn't make sense. But little about this year's New York Giants or this year's NFC East has made sense, and so here we are, with four games left in the season, and the ridiculous has become reality.
In the division no one seems to want, all four teams lost this week. Out in the desert, the Dallas Cowboys gave away their chance to control the NFC East race. A short time later, out here in the swamps of Jersey, the Giants had their hearts broken by the Green Bay Packers. But the Giants' loss -- a 38-35 thriller in which they came back to tie the score with 58 seconds left only to watch sharpshooting Aaron Rodgers fire his way into field-goal range -- left them emotionally better off for the season's final four games than the Cowboys' loss left them. Whether it was because of how close they came, how much better they looked than they had in their past two games or how firmly they still hold their destiny in their hands, the Giants walked out of MetLife Stadium on Sunday night feeling pretty good about themselves.
"Today we learned that anything is possible when we put our minds to it as a team," Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. "We're going to keep fighting. We're going to fight to get into the playoffs. And once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be anything that stops us there."
Ridiculous, such talk from a player on a defense that has allowed 87 points in the past two weeks to two of the conference's playoff-bound teams. But the point here is not whether the Giants or the Cowboys or anybody else from the NFC East is capable of making a Super Bowl run. The point here is that (A) someone will win this division, (B) it's probably not going to be a very good team and (C) the Giants have more reason than they did 24 hours ago to believe it could be them.
"We have four games to go and three of them in our division," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I think this game brings us together even tighter than we've ever been before as a team. Guys laid it on the line for each other tonight."
Big difference from two weeks ago, when the Giants were furious after inexplicably losing to the sinking Eagles on this same field. And a big difference from Monday night, when the Giants were sad and resigned after getting blown out of the water by the Saints in New Orleans. The Giants who spoke in the wake of this game were a forward-looking bunch that wanted to talk about the opportunity it still has in front of it rather than the one it had just let slip away.
"We've got to try and take something from this game," said quarterback Eli Manning, who added 347 passing yards and three touchdowns to his gaudy season numbers. "We have four big games left and we have to take whatever we can from this game, clean up a few things and play good football if we're going to run this thing down."
Twice during his news conference, Manning inexplicably referred to the Washington Redskins as the Giants' next opponent. He was corrected as he left the room and reminded that the Giants' next game is next Sunday night against the Cowboys in Dallas. But he knew that, of course. Everyone in the Giants' locker room knows there are two games left against Dallas, which still has that one-game lead that coulda/shoulda been two.
"We know we have to play them twice," Manning said. "And we we know that if we handle our business and play the way we can and win out, then we'll be in the playoffs."
Simple as it can be, really. If the Giants beat the Cowboys twice and win their other two remaining games, they're division champs. If they beat the Cowboys twice, beat the Jets on Christmas Eve and the Cowboys lose to the Eagles, they're division champs. Heck, if they win their next three in a row and the Cowboys lose that Christmas Eve game to the Eagles, the Giants will be division champs no matter what happens in the second head-to-head matchup against Dallas.
And while it may seem ridiculous to be projecting all of these wins for a team that hasn't won a game in a month, it's anything but impossible. The Cowboys are clearly beatable, and the Giants have been in every game they've played this year but one. Manning is playing quarterback at a top-five level, and armed with wide receiver weapons as dangerous as Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, he's repeatedly shown the ability to deliver in the clutch. The run game has looked better the past two weeks, and clearly the return of Ahmad Bradshaw gave it a boost Sunday. If the defense can just find a way to stop someone -- which could start happening simply because they're not playing the best offenses in the NFC anymore -- they have every justification for the confidence they were articulating Sunday night. May sound ridiculous to you and me, but the Giants are still right in this mix.
"Seeing the way we came out and played against an undefeated team like we did today, I think that gives us momentum going forward," Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. "It's only about the future, and we have a lot of work to do this week to get ready for Dallas."
If they manage to end their losing streak and win at Dallas next Sunday night, the Giants will be 7-6 and tied for first after all they've gone through in a miserable past month. You can call that ridiculous. This year, we're calling it life in the NFC East.