After a victory on Monday Night Football, New York Giants all-world receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said he and his team are looking forward to Feb. 5 in Houston — which just so happens to be the date of Super Bowl LI. I doubt it's because they're all planning a watch-party at Eli Manning's house. No, Beckham is “real confident in [his] team” and says theirs is a “Super Bowl defense.”
Ordinarily, Super Bowl boasts made in Week 10 are false bravado — the thing diva wide receivers have embedded in their DNA. Ordinarily, they don't come from a team that's a full two games behind their division leader. Ordinarily, they don't come right after that team survived to beat a sub-.500 AFC North team at home by a single point. And, yes, it's odd for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs in four years and has a rushing attack ranked No. 31 in the NFL to start shouting “Super Bowl!” a week before Thanksgiving. But the Eli Manning New York Giants are usually anything but ordinary, and there's been nothing routine about the 2016 NFL season. All in all, Beckham may just be popping off at the mouth, but he and his team have the goods to improbably make his brash prediction true.
Look at the current NFC standings. The Cowboys lead the conference with an 8-1 record. But while they seem unstoppable now, would you feel comfortable about this team come January? It could easily be a respectable 6-3 right now, and our idea of the the Cowboys would be completely different. Then there's the Seahawks, 6-2-1 and playing the best football of any team in the NFC. And then what? A 4-4-1 Cardinals team whose best win is over the Bucs? The 6-4 Falcons? A Redskins team that seems capable of beating or losing to any team in the NFL depending on the day? Or take your pick of NFC North teams, two of which are in a free fall and the other, which slipped into first place while on a bye, basically plays coin-flip football in the fourth quarter and has the 5-4 record to prove it.
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Those are the six playoff teams as it stands. Carolina's choke-job against the Chiefs effectively pushed them out of the playoff race barring a 7-0 finish and some help or a complete meltdown by the Falcons. (Both are more possible than anyone thinks, but still.) The Giants can't make it out of that scrum?
If season ended today, New York would go to Detroit in the wild-card round. Its most likely destination for the divisional playoffs would be traveling to Dallas for game No. 3 of their season series. And then, depending on what Seattle does on the other half of the bracket, the only thing standing between the Giants and the Super Bowl could be another team with a solid defense and no rushing game.
We know the Giants can beat Dallas. We know Seattle is beatable. Suddenly the NFC title is there for the taking. If Dallas were dominant, you could say the odds of both them and the Seahawks failing to make the Super Bowl would be low. It'd be like the AFC back in the day with Manning and Brady. One of their teams made the Super Bowl in 10 of the last 15 years (throw Ben Roethlisberger's Steelers into the mix and it's 13 of the last 15). I'm not ready to put Dallas in that category yet, and neither should you. Maybe by January it could be argued they're on a different plane than the rest of the NFC. For now they're a good team that's on a solid run due to talent, skill, execution and, the thing every football team needs, a little bit of luck.
The Giants, in particular, know how far that can get a team. In 2007, New York went 10-6, earned a wild-card bid and ran the table to win the Super Bowl over the 18-0 New England Patriots. Four years later, the Giants went 9-7, barely winning a woeful NFC East. Then they held the Falcons to two points in their wild-card opener, rolled over the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau, survived an NFC championship game gainst the favored San Francisco 49ers and, once again, sent Bill Belichick and Tom Brady off the field as Super Bowl losers with an upset win.
Those title glories came under a different regime (Tom Coughlin was on the sideline for both but was let go after last season) with a mostly different cast outside of Manning, Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul. But it's merely the idea of those teams that can sustain this edition of the Giants, one that'll also have the odds stacked against it in the postseason and will likely have to win three straight road games to even get to the Super Bowl.
Would Manning and Beckham be the favorites to make it to Houston? No. But it's not like being favorites or having home-field advantage has helped teams in the past two decades (where the best team fails to win the conference far more often than not).
Is there a legitimate chance the Giants could win it all, though (and not just because it's the playoffs and all 12 participants technically have a chance — tell that to recent Cincinnati and Houston teams)? When you have a quarterback who's won two rings before, the most dynamic deep-play threat in the game and a defense that can hold its own against high-gear offenses playing in a conference where the two best teams either start rookies at skill positions or had a 6-6 tie with the Cardinals, then why not? Stranger things have happened, and some Giants are old enough to even tell the tale.