The New York Giants are no ordinary second-place team.
They won 11 games in 2016, bolstered by an incredible defense that can stop both the run and the pass and plays best in big games, and a young offensive playmaker who might be one of the best the game has ever seen.
This isn’t a second-place team that just snuck in with the wild card — it's dangerous.
Just ask the Dallas Cowboys, the NFC East champions and No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, who lost to the Giants twice (their only true losses of the year).
The Giants are absolutely Super Bowl contenders, despite not winning their division, and here’s why:
Getty ImagesGetty Images
They have the best defense in the postseason
The Giants’ defensive turnaround was one of the most remarkable NFL stories that didn’t get the buzz it perhaps deserved.
New York had one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2015 by most reliable metrics — it finished No. 30 in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA rankings.
This year — No. 2.
Two big free agent signings were critical in the turnaround. Landing Damon “Snacks” Harrison to play defensive tackle has helped the Giants turn into one of the best run defenses in the NFL, and pass rusher Olivier Vernon helped New York register 12 more sacks year-over-year.
Add the emergence of second-year safety Landon Collins — who was one of the best strong safeties in the NFL this season (125 combined tackles, 5 interceptions) — and the exceptional play of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (21 passes defended) and you have a defense that held 2016 playoff teams to an average of 16 points a game.
The Giants allowed a season high in points (29) in Week 3 and haven’t allowed more than three touchdowns in a game since.
No, you do not want to play this New York defense.
Paul Perkins is ready for the spotlight
The Giants’ offense was a one-dimensional unit in 2016, dependent upon Eli Manning and the team’s receivers, mainly Odell Beckham. But over the last four games of the season, that started to change, thanks to Paul Perkins.
The rookie running back out of UCLA didn’t hit the ground running in the NFL like fellow rookie back Ezekiel Elliott, but in the final quarter of the season, he helped establish some sorely needed balance to the Giants’ offensive attack.
Perkins became the first Giants running back to rush for more than 100 yards in a game in New York’s Week 17 win over Washington, going for 102. And while Rashad Jennings rushed for 85 yards or more twice this season, there were far too many games in which the Giants' leading rusher had fewer than 50 yards (8) or 70 (12).
Perkins probably won't go for 100 yards in every playoff game, but he’s a threat to do so, and merely having that threat can open up the Giants’ often stagnant offense in the postseason.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
They have the best player in the game
When Odell Beckham is at his best, he is truly unstoppable, and this postseason is his chance to prove that he is indeed the best player in the game.
Amid all the outbursts and drama, Beckham had a sterling season, catching 101 passes for 1,397 yards and 10 touchdowns, making him the first receiver in NFL history with 80-plus catches and 1,000 yards in each of his first three years.
At a time when receiver play has never been better, Beckham has by far the worst quarterback of any of the game’s best receivers — Eli Manning really should give a major portion of his salary to No. 13. But it doesn’t matter – Beckham keeps getting open and making plays.
This will be the first year the Giants have made the playoffs with Beckham in tow.