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Eli Manning and the Giants are no stranger to the Super Bowl hangover – especially this season.
The Giants have never worn their Super Bowl rings well. It has always been something.
In 1987, it was the players’ strike and three straight losses by an almost comical replacement team. No playoffs.
In ’91, Ray Handley was the convenient scapegoat. No playoffs.
In ’08, Plaxico Burress shot himself. First-round playoff loss.
In 2012? Huh? Can’t be.
The Giants had this thing wrapped up a little over a month ago. But there it is. The post-Super Bowl jinx looms again. And this time, there are no excuses, no flukes. If they continue to screw things up, it will be on them.
It is a very plausible scenario. Not only can they blow the NFC East if they don’t finish better than 2-2 the rest of the way, a 9-7 record may not even be good enough for a wild card. And if you look at the schedule, 2-2 isn’t out of the question.
The Saints are first at Met Life Stadium Sunday. Losses to the Niners and Falcons have pretty much finished them, but they will have 10 days off, and there is always Drew Brees, who carved them up last year. Still, the Giants ought to prevail.
Then it gets dicey with back-to-back visits to two of the toughest venues in the league. They will play at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons (11-1) have won 19 of their last 22 games. Then it’s on to M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens just had a 15-game winning streak snapped by the Steelers. That’s a combined 34-4 record if you are scoring.
If it should come down to the final game, even that may not be the gimme it should be. With something on the line, the Giants should plaster the dreadful Eagles, but if it is to be Andy Reid’s last game, motivation can do surprising things.
The key to it all may be the Redskins’ next game. They host the Ravens at FedEx Field and the Ravens are hardly the same team on the road. If Robert Griffin III can lead them past their local rivals, the erratic Skins will face the beatable Browns and Eagles over the next two weeks before closing with a home game against the Cowboys in what could be winner-take-all. At this point, the Redskins are 3-1 in the division. The best the Giants can finish is 3-3.
As for the wild-card race, the Bears and Packers, one of whom will win the NFC North, have a one-game lead on the Giants with the Giants owning the tie-breaker advantage on Green Bay. The Seahawks are currently tied with the Giants at 7-5. The Giants should make the playoffs but they have brought in several shades of doubt.
Admittedly, this is all speculative. The Giants are also capable of steam-rolling their way through the final four games, and with wins over the Falcons and Ravens, they would have momentum again heading into the postseason. But it never should have gotten to this point in the first place.
The case can still be made that the Giants, when playing their best, are better than anyone else in the league. They showed that by demolishing the Packers. When their pass rush is revved up and Eli Manning is in his groove, they have the two biggest elements needed to win in the modern NFL.
The problem is the Packer game was their only victory in the last four games. At 9-7 last year, they squeaked into the playoffs. Now they are two games over .500 again. They have never been a dominant team. They have won championships by being the hottest team.
They continue to play a dangerous game where one play here or there makes the difference. Manning is back in his groove, but how many times can the Giants rely on his late heroics? The Redskins made sure that wasn’t going to happen again by denying him the ball at the end of Monday night’s game.
A fter the loss to the Redskins Monday night, the Giants said not to worry. They’ve been here before.
They are right. Every time they win a Super Bowl.