- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is the first in a three-part series that will look at each of the three teams tied for first place in the NFC East with two weeks to play and make the case for why that team will win the division. The cases for the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys will appear on Thursday and Friday. But today we look at the defending NFC East and Super Bowl champion New York Giants, and the reasons to believe they will rebound and win the division this year.
If you're of the belief that the Giants will win the NFC East, you're banking on track record. Of the three teams tied for first place, the Giants are the ones who've actually shown you they can do what needs to be done. You don't know whether the Redskins or the Cowboys will wake up in Week 16 with the race in their own hands and seize the opportunity or be overwhelmed by it. It could go either way for both of them.
It could go either way for the Giants, too, but the difference is that we've seen them seize it. We know that this group of players and coaches is capable of making good on this kind of a chance. This time last year, the Giants were 7-7 and needed to win their final two games to reach the playoffs. They didn't lose again until September, picking up a Super Bowl title along the way. This year, they're 8-6 and need to win their final two games to reach the playoffs. They need help, even if they do go 2-0, to win the division. But if somebody said you could only pick one of these three teams to go 2-0 the rest of the way, the experience of 2011 would push you to pick the Giants. And if they're the only one of the three that goes 2-0, they win it.
The counterarguments are all rooted in what we've seen (or not seen) from the Giants this season. The pass-rushers can't get to the quarterback. Eli Manning can't get on a roll. Ahmad Bradshaw and Kenny Phillips, significant, "glue" players on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, can't get on the field. Tom Coughlin can't get a handle on how to light a persistent spark under his team the way he did last year after that loss to the Redskins dropped them to 7-7. There is evidence to support the idea that this year, when the Giants dig down deep inside themselves for that extra something they need to win these big games, it might not be there as it was every time last season. And that does happen. Not every year can be magical, and last year for the Giants surely was.
There's also the math. The Giants could go 2-0 and still, if the Redskins or Cowboys do the same, not win the division (though they'd still make it in as a wild-card team). This is the reason to believe they have less of a chance to pull this off than those other teams have -- because it's not, technically, in their control.
But the thing with the Giants is that you can't get last year out of your head. It was easy to doubt them last year, especially when they were 7-7, but from that point on, they looked totally different and completely unstoppable. You just can't shake the notion that the same thing could happen again, and then wouldn't you feel silly for having doubted them? Of the three teams in this tie, only one is a Super Bowl champion with a quarterback who's proved his ability to win when all appears lost. Only one has a coach who pushed the right button at this time one year ago, and can ask his players to remember instead of hope or believe. The Giants are the team whose track record tells you they're less likely to fall apart over these next two weeks than their division rivals are. And while every year is different and last year guarantees nothing, the memory of what the Giants did one season ago stands as the biggest reason to believe they can do it again.