EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Underdogs no more. At least not this week for the New York Giants, facing a game with significant playoff implications Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
It’s quite the role reversal. The Giants weren’t supposed to be here. They weren’t expected to be 5. ½-point favorites and a win over the Indianapolis Colts away from reaching the postseason at the start of 2023.
While running back Saquon Barkley said he knew during training camp that the Giants could be a playoff team, the Giants have relished the underdog role throughout the season.
“I know a lot of people wouldn’t have put us in this position at the start of the season,” Barkley said. “I don’t think anybody, outside the people in this facility, would have put us in this position. We knew the talent that we have. We knew it was hard to win football games in this league, but if we do the little things right, we could put ourselves in position to do it. And we’ve done that. Now we got the opportunity and have to take care of Sunday.”
The Giants (8-6-1) are favored for just the fifth time this season. Coach Brian Daboll has gone out of his way to downplay the importance of every game the past few weeks. He’s preached that it’s just the next game on the schedule. He even suggested this week that the pressure of the Super Bowl is no different than Week 1 or 16.
“I’d say there’s pressure every week in this league. There’s only 17 games,” Daboll said. “You got to play well each week, do everything you can do to win and get ready to play the next week. It’s competitive.”
It’s understandable considering what Daboll is trying to accomplish. He wants his team to remain focused and not look ahead. It has worked so far. The Giants have been a pleasant surprise even with a flawed roster.
But talk to enough players and coaches, current and past, and they’ll tell you that late-season games, playoff tilts and certainly Super Bowls are different. Barkley even thought last week in Minnesota, when the Giants lost a 27-24 heartbreaker to the Vikings, was the first time he felt a true playoff atmosphere.
“Last week was like a playoff game. I’ve never been in one, but I would assume,” Barkley said. “Just how it came down. How loud it was, how it came down to a field goal. It just shows you. It’s like that every week but especially in a game like that, I guess. I don’t know, I’ve never been there. It was faster. Guys were moving around. That is what it felt like.”
MetLife hasn’t seen many games like that in recent years. That is what makes this week so intriguing. There was the finale in 2020 against the Dallas Cowboys when the Giants were still alive, despite finishing 6-10. Before that you need to reach back to the 2016 season for the last time this franchise reached the postseason.
This group doesn’t have a lot of experience dealing with that type of pressure. It’s the kind of situation that has gotten to teams in the past.
Guard Mark Glowinski was on the Colts last year when they lost their final two games to miss the playoffs. They got their doors blown off by the inferior Jacksonville Jaguars to miss out on the postseason in Week 18.
Glowinski stressed much of what Daboll has been preaching. Don’t take anybody lightly, make sure you’re in the moment, concentrate on fundamentals and technique, and worry about today.
“All I can do is refresh everybody, use all the time that I’ve had in the past for situations of wins and losses to remind guys that it’s here and right now," Glowinski said. "We need to execute and make sure that we give everything we can.”
Quarterback Daniel Jones has performed extremely well the past few weeks in playoff-like games. His QBR of 65.2 on the road against Washington and Minnesota is seventh-best in the NFL during that span. The Giants beat the Commanders and lost a heartbreaker to the Vikings on a 61-yard field goal as time expired.
“Playing at this level, there’s always pressure, there’s always expectations,” Jones said. “Week to week, I think it’s about how you prepare and get yourself ready to play as well as you can. If you’re prepared and ready to go, you’re ready to put your best foot forward and put the team in a position to win. That’s what I’m focused on, is just preparing every day as well as I can.”
The Giants aren’t naive. They are aware of the situation -- win and they’re in.
“I don’t think it changes anything because, like you said, we’ve been the [under]dog a lot in games this year that we’ve won,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said. “So, being the favorite or being the ‘dog ultimately doesn’t determine whether or not you win or lose the game. It’s the NFL. They’ve got good players. So, you got to go out there and play and execute, take care of the football and do the things you got to do to win the game.”