Commentary

The battle for a New York postseason

Bragging rights don't matter right now -- the locals are fighting for their playoff lives

Updated: December 19, 2011, 10:36 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They could both finish this coming weekend with 8-7 records. They share a stadium, a city and a habit for self-immolating losses that make you wonder if they share the same neuroses, too. You can put them in the driver's seat. All they'll do is send you to a shrink's couch instead. The Jets and Giants' styles are as different as hip-hop and elevator music, but their spilt personalities are mirror images of each other. They win when they should lose, lose when they should win.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesMark Sanchez was 15-for-26 for 150 yards and a fumble in Sunday's beatdown in Philly.

So it's entirely fitting that they both belly flopped to bad losses this past Sunday, and limp into their Christmas Eve showdown with their seasons on the line.

This game isn't about something as shortsighted as city bragging rights. The Jets and Giants will both be playing Saturday to avoid getting last rites.

After the way both teams were routed Sunday, hearing the Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka and the Jets' Santonio Holmes talking afterward about still making a Super Bowl run sounded silly. They're playing the Survival Bowl this week. That's it. And they ought to be happy to see each other coming.

There are a lot of things in life that are so ugly they're almost beautiful. Pugs come to mind. Toyota Priuses. That mallard duck necktie your mother-in-law gave to you last Christmas that you now use (shhh ... ) to check the oil in your car. And this: two NFL teams that can't get out of their own way colliding in a huge game in which the overriding motivation will be desperation.

But look at the bright side: Playing great under desperate circumstances is a trait the Jets and Giants share, too.

"There is going to be a lot of emotion flying in that football game because I know we just let another one slip way," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said after the Washington Redskins embarrassed the Giants 23-10 Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

"It's going to be ridiculous," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "It's going to be a war. We're both fighting for our playoff lives."

The loser has a great chance of staying home for the postseason. The winner gets another week to prove that being a schizophrenic team needn't be fatal if you just time the breakdowns right. It's not so much if you have them, it's against whom.

The Jets can still get an AFC wild-card spot even if they lose to the Giants, but they'll need a convoluted array of things to go right after their 45-13 beatdown by the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.

The Giants have to defeat the Jets and then beat visiting Dallas on the last weekend of the season to recapture the playoff spot and NFC East title they may have handed back to the Cowboys (8-6) with Sunday's debacle against a Redskins team that was playing only for jobs.

The Giants have now lost five of their last six games. There are a lot of things they could put on their Christmas list besides getting this must-win. The Giants could ask for a defense, or even just a reliable secondary. That would help their chances. They could try to find their running game, which has been AWOL most of the season. They could even request an updated count on exactly how many of his nine (or is it 90?) lives coach Tom Coughlin has now used.

"I am very disappointed in how we played today and the responsibility always comes right back to me," Coughlin said Sunday. And one of these days, he's going to be fatally right. Management is going to finally say it's time to go rather than try to figure out why these late-season swoons and mysterious flat-line games keep happening to Coughlin's Giants year after year after ... oh, stop me if you've heard this before.

"I just have this big knot in my stomach right now," Tuck sighed.

And the Jets? The Jets' offensive line was again shaky, particularly right tackle Wayne Hunter, which can't be a good feeling with Giants' pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul up next. The Jets' defense just saw another tight end -- this time Brett Celek (five catches, 156 yards and a touchdown) -- torch its safeties, particularly season-long target Eric Smith.

Holmes' hot-and-cold season took another bad turn Sunday, too.

Holmes should be wondering right about now if it's possible to be a one-term team captain. Earlier this year, he publicly called out Mark Sanchez and the offensive line for not being more effective, a Jet-on-Jet crime that pushed guard Brandon Moore to growl, "Enough."

Sunday, Holmes put the Jets in an insurmountable hole with his early-game fumble and a tipped ball that led to an interception. Then his decision to celebrate his late-game touchdown catch by mocking the Eagles drew a 15-yard penalty that even Holmes later admitted was stupid.

There seems to be a pattern here. The Giants and Jets own up to disasters after the fact, rather than preventing them ahead of time. Congratulations if you long ago sniffed that out, too. Now a question: If someone gave you two tickets to Saturday's game, would you eagerly grab them? Or would you toss them back like a dead fish, ask someone to text you the score when it's over and watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 100th time on Christmas Eve instead?

Get ready for the Survival Bowl.

It's so ugly it's almost beautiful. These are two teams only a masochist could love.

Anything that can go wrong probably will.

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