Five storylines to follow heading into the 2018 season finale vs. Dallas:
1. Giants, Cowboys still playing to win finale. Despite the Giants (5-10) being out of postseason contention and the Cowboys (9-6) locked into the fourth seed as the NFC East champions, Pat Shurmur and Jason Garrett are playing to win Sunday’s meeting at MetLife Stadium. Shurmur, who has stated repeatedly that the team needs to learn how to win again, wants to end his first season as head coach of the Giants on a high note. Garrett’s team, meanwhile, can neither help nor hurt its seeding on Sunday, but the head coach has reiterated that any Cowboy who is healthy is going to play and play to the best of his ability.
“Hopefully, what I expect [Eli Manning] to do is lead us to victory,” Shurmur said. “Nothing would be better than for him to assume the victory formation and take a knee, and beating the Cowboys. That’s what we’re looking to do.”
2. Since the last time. After both teams dropped their season opener, which for once was not against each other, the Cowboys defeated the Giants, 20-13, in Week 2 at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys led the entire game after an opening-drive touchdown, building their lead to 17 points in the fourth quarter before the Giants scored 10 in the final 90 seconds. The Giants managed a season-low 255 yards in that game as they got off to a 1-7 start on the season. They turned things around by winning four out of five games coming out of the bye week, but have lost their last two to head into the finale with a 5-10 record. The Cowboys, who were 3-5 at the midway point, are 6-1 in the second half of the season and clinched their third NFC East title in five years with a win over the Buccaneers in Week 15.
“Well, I think we’re a better team than we were back then,” Shurmur said. “We’ve sustained some injuries the last couple of weeks, but I do think that all teams kind of morph a little bit as the season goes on. You start to do the things you do well more. Some of the things you didn’t do well early, you don’t do anymore. And again, for guys in their first year, getting the feel for the players, so you change certainly. There’s something to be gained by watching the film (of the first game) because schemes pretty much are the same, but I think we’re both different teams now.”
3. There is a “chance” for Beckham, Ogletree to play. The Giants missed their leaders in receiving yards and interceptions last week because of injuries. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. remained out for a third consecutive game with a quad injury, while linebacker Alec Ogletree was in the concussion protocol. Neither practiced on Wednesday to start the week. “There’s a chance [they could play Sunday],” Shurmur said. “We’ll just have to see where they’re at. They’re both feeling better than they did last week. We’ll just have to see.” Tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), defensive lineman Mario Edwards (calf), and wide receiver Russell Shepard (ankle) also did not practice. Linebacker B.J. Goodson (foot), center Spencer Pulley (calf) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (hip) were limited. Defensive lineman Kerry Wynn, who missed the Indianapolis game with a thumb injury, practiced fully.
4. Saquon’s closing argument for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Second overall draft pick, check. Pro Bowl, check. Offensive Rookie of the Year, hold the phone. What was a slam dunk for Saquon Barkley has become contested by Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick, with every game he wins. Barkley needs 114 yards in the Giants’ final game to become the third rookie in NFL history with 2,000 yards from scrimmage (Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James are the others). Mayfield, who has 24 touchdown passes in 2018, surpassed Andrew Luck (23 touchdown passes in 2012) for the second-most touchdown passes by a rookie quarterback selected No. 1 overall in the common draft era. Only Peyton Manning had more with 26 in 1998. Cleveland finishes the season at Baltimore, the No. 1 defense in yards and scoring.
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5. What comes after Sunday? Dave Gettleman took over as general manager one year ago this Friday. The team was at its low point with a 2-13 record, the most losses in franchise history. Shurmur was hired a little less than a month after him, and a year later, the Giants have improved their win total by two games with a chance to make it three this week. After Sunday, players will scatter, some returning and some not in 2019. Shurmur said that behind the scenes he is making plans as the calendar turns to January. The public will know what those plans are no sooner than Monday.
“We’ll have longer conversations with all the players on Monday to talk about what our expectations are moving forward,” Shurmur said. “I’m ready for that. We’ve done this long enough where there’s sort of a blueprint for that. And there’s certain things I expect to see from the younger players, and then I just expect that they’re going to be professional about what they do with their time and take it from there. I have a more detailed blueprint of where it’s going to go. I have an idea of what January, February, March needs to look like, but that’s not for anybody to know yet until after we play the next game.”