The Giants have an unwelcome distinction of being the only 8-8 team in the playoffs. While it's not a proud achievement, they know that no matter what their season record, anything can happen in the post-season.
The Giants, however unlikely, have reached the NFL playoffs. They are the only 8-8 team in either conference to do so, and as a reward they get to take a short trip down the New Jersey Turnpike to play the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles.
They got in by the barest of margins, seeing as how there were three other teams that finished with the same record - Carolina, Green Bay and St. Louis. In all, there were eight 8-8 teams, and the four from the AFC - Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tennessee - failed to earn a wild-card spot, too.
So the Giants will play the Eagles, a team they have already beaten once this season, a team that might rank as their hottest, most intense rival (Dallas notwithstanding), and now the intriguing question comes up almost unbidden.
What if they win?
They can, of course. They did it once this season and the rematch wasn't that far off. The Eagles won, 36-22, but with a few minutes left it was just 29-22, a touchdown apart, until a pass thrown by Eli Manning was picked off and turned into the cushion.
"We are in the playoffs and at this point all the teams that made it have the same record," said weak-side linebacker Brandon Short. "We're all 0-0, and now we go from here. You know, the playoffs don't mean that much. Lots of teams get there. What really counts is that nobody is happy until they get to hold that Vince Lombardi Trophy over their heads. Then it's real."
The Giants know they won't have Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan, who was placed on injured reserve last week. But some of the others who were on the inactive list last Saturday night in Washington - guard/center Rich Seubert, tight end Jeremy Shockey, for instance - should be ready to go against the Eagles.
It will be the third meeting of the season between these two rivals, and the winner, as Short says, will leave with a 1-0 record.
TE Jeremy Shockey (sprained ankle) missed the game against the Redskins and didn't even make the trip with the team. Considering his enthusiasm and fiery behavior, this seemed odd at the time. "We told him not to come down," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "We wanted to make sure he was not standing on the sideline for the entire game. He needed to rest the ankle."
WLB Brandon Short has a theory on why the Eagles have played so well lately; they lost QB Donovan McNabb. "I know that sounds silly," he said, "but when Donovan went down, and he is absolutely one of the top quarterbacks in the league, it forced them to run the ball more with (Brian) Westbrook. He's been terrific. Then (Jeff) Garcia started to show he could do the job and now they are more well-balanced."
RT Kareem McKenzie acknowledges that Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter talks a lot, agrees that most of it is done to antagonize the other side, but adds this: "I don't pay attention to Trotter or anybody else," he said. "I try to do what I can to help my team win. We're a different team now. We made it through all the struggles and trials and we're here in the playoffs. You know, it's funny how your confidence rises with just one win."
RB Tiki Barber finished his last regular-season game with the best game of his illustrious career. He carried 23 times for 234 yards and scored three TDs on runs of 55, 50 and 15 yards. "Now I'd like to have the best game of my playoff career," he smiled, "like maybe two or three times before I really retire." Barber had 1,662 yards for the season, his second-best year (1,860 last season). He finished second in NFC rushing to San Francisco's Frank Gore and was fourth in NFL rushing behind LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Gore.
QB Eli Manning is drawing that left-handed compliment more and more from coach Tom Coughlin. You know the one: "Eli doesn't have big numbers but he is managing the games well." He would just as soon have a big game, however. "I'm the quarterback, it's my job to lead," he said. For the season, Manning completed 301 passes in 522 attempts for 3,244 yards, 24 TDs and 18 interceptions. His completion percentage of 57.7 was better than last year's 52.8 and his passer rating of 77.0 was better than last year's 75.9 - but barely.
LT Bob Whitfield, who had filled in for the injured Luke Petitgout since Nov. 12, was benched last Saturday against Washington in a move that put LG David Diehl in the position and sent veteran Grey Ruegamer to start at left guard.
WR Plaxico Burress led the Giants in receiving yardage (988) and TDs (10). He was second to TE Jeremy Shockey in receptions, 66 to 63.
RB Brandon Jacobs, who was second in TDs with nine, spoke about Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter. "He really believes all the things he says," he smiled. "He's a good player and he has a lot of confidence. But so do we."
K Jay Feely, who had two field goals in two attempts against the Redskins, finished with 107 points for the season and missed only four of 27 field-goal tries.