The New York Giants play in the right division to offset a slow start to the season. They also have the right upcoming schedule to keep doing so.
The Giants begin a seemingly favorable stretch Sunday night at home against the sinking San Francisco 49ers, who will try to avoid their worst road losing streak in more than five years.
The 49ers have lost three straight overall and are one of four current 1-3 teams the Giants will face in the next five weeks.
New York was headed toward that record or worse after starting 0-2, having mishandled double-digit leads in the fourth quarter against Dallas and Atlanta. Instead, the Giants rattled off convincing wins over Washington and Buffalo to even their record at 2-2, and they follow Sunday’s game with matchups against Philadelphia (1-3), Dallas (2-2), New Orleans (1-3) and Tampa Bay (1-3).
New York has pulled into a three-way tie atop the NFC East after two straight losses by the Cowboys, who will be without stars Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the foreseeable future.
Coach Tom Coughlin said a sluggish start may have provided some motivation to get back in the division race.
"But I do know that it puts a fire in our belly without a doubt to be 0-2, and I didn’t think we were an 0-2 team," Coughlin said. "We needed to do something about it. So we tried to inspire our guys to believe in themselves and come together as a team, to play the four quarters."
New York hasn’t trailed in eight straight quarters, jumping ahead of the Redskins early before cruising to a 32-21 win and using the same formula to beat Buffalo 24-10 last Sunday.
After surrendering 51 points and ranking last in the league with 702 passing yards allowed through the season’s first two weeks, the Giants have lowered those numbers to 31 points and 563 passing yards in the last two.
Those numbers figure to keep improving against a struggling Colin Kaepernick and the NFL’s lowest-scoring offense. Kaepernick, who has led the 49ers to 48 points this season, has failed to throw a TD pass in three of four games and is averaging 181.8 passing yards – worst among signal-callers to start every game.
"We have to find our rhythm," Kaepernick said. "We have to get back on track and string plays together. When we do that, we have produced successful drives. It’s getting those plays to string together where we’ve struggled thus far."
He has a league-worst 25.7 passer rating in the last two weeks while totaling 227 passing yards and five interceptions, compared to a 104.8 rating by counterpart Eli Manning. Kaepernick has been sacked 13 times during San Francisco’s three-game skid, with six coming in last week’s 17-3 home loss to Green Bay.
The 49ers’ rushing yards have plummeted in each game from 230, to 111, to 103 and finally 77.
"When you work like we do, we work hard, success has to come," receiver Torrey Smith said. "It hasn’t been coming, but it just has to happen. Just stick by that belief and hope we can get this thing going."
San Francisco, though, has lost four consecutive road games, giving up 90 points in two this year. The team hasn’t had a worst slide away from home since dropping six straight during the 2009 season.
This skid dates back to last season’s 16-10 win at MetLife Stadium even with Kaepernick not performing particularly well, finishing 15 of 29 for 193 yards and a touchdown. Manning, however, tied a career high with five interceptions as he completed 22 of 45 passes for 280 yards and one score.
Manning has since thrown only four INTs in 10 games and has one this year while throwing for seven TDs.
One concern for New York is the MRSA infection that sent tight end Daniel Fells to the hospital. The Giants placed Fells on season-ending injured reserve due to the infection, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that kills thousands each year.
"It’s a very serious thing, has been that way in this league for quite a few years," Coughlin said. "Everyone has been very aware of it."
Team doctors, trainer Ronnie Barnes, the head of the team’s facilities and the players union provided advice to the Giants on how to prevent the infection on Wednesday. Doctors do not yet know how Fells contracted MRSA.