The stakes couldn't be higher or clearer for the Giants when they face the Baltimore Ravens Sunday in M&T Bank Stadium.
A victory will set up a scenario in which they would clinch a playoff berth with a victory over Philadelphia in the season's final game. A defeat would cripple and perhaps terminate their chance to play a postseason game.
"If we win two games, we're going to be in the playoffs," coach Tom Coughlin said. "That's what we have to focus on. Our team knows the circumstances very well. It is a playoff situation for us. We now have to win to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs. We've responded to that in the past. We're going to have to respond to that again."
But much less clear a situation is how the Giants will perform. To the chagrin and bafflement of Coughlin and the players, they've added new dimensions to the word "inconsistency" this season. That was most vividly demonstrated in the last two weeks, when they followed a 52-point outburst in a runaway victory over New Orleans by failing to put a point on the board in a 34-point loss in Atlanta.
"It's hard," defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. "Week after week you don't know what you are going to get from us. We are not consistent, until I guess somebody is going to get fired or our backs are against the wall or it is all or nothing. The way we're playing right know, we don't know who we are. We know we've got two games left, and we've got to go out there and win."
"There's times we go out there, we look like the best team in the world; there's times we go out there, we look like the worst team in the world," safety Antrel Rolle said this week. "I think we know who we are as a team. But we just fail to go out there and prove it each and every week."
Sunday would be a good time to start. Scenarios exist under which the Giants can clinch a postseason berth this week. They would have to win and three or four other teams must lose. The Giants will also be in play for the NFC East title if they defeat Baltimore and Dallas or Washington lose. But their postseason dreams could expire if they fall to the Ravens.
"We know what we're playing for," quarterback Eli Manning said. "We know what's on the line and all you can do is prepare for the future, go out there and hopefully, we can take our practice and what we're doing with good plays and take that onto Sunday."
"We need to win the last two," guard Chris Snee said. "It's not a situation we haven't been in before."
Yes, the Giants have been down this road before. Last year at this juncture they were 7-7 and had to win their last two games to join the postseason party. They did exactly that, beating the Jets and Dallas Cowboys to set up their four-game run through the playoffs. Now they have a slightly better record at 8-6, but the song remains the same.
"I think last year we did prove that we could do it with the team that we had and this team is very similar," tight end Bear Pascoe said. "But last year is in the past. This is a new year. I think the fact that we have done it before gives us a lot of confidence going into this week. We have our backs up against the wall and I think we tend to play better when we're like that. We've had really good practices and guys are high intensity out there and running around making plays. So I think it's definitely something that gives us a lot of confidence."
But JPP is not as heartened by the thought that the Giants have previously faced this predicament.
"I don't want to hear that," he said. "To me, that's all bull crap. I mean, yeah we've done it before, but this is a whole other year. This year is a totally different year. We don't have the same guys on the team as last year. Who knows who's going to be here next year? Right now, we can do it for now and that's what we have to do. I've been here before, I can say that, but we're in the same position we were in last year. You don't know what the outcome will be. We have to go out this Sunday and play our hearts out and hopefully the next weekend, the game after that against the Eagles, and get in the playoffs. Each game right now is a must-win game for us. We put that on ourselves, and that's a consequence of it. We have to go out there and play them."
In Baltimore, the Giants will run into a 9-5 Ravens team that has clinched a postseason berth but is no less desperate. The Ravens have lost three consecutive games, but can clinch the AFC North title with a victory over the Giants.
"(My concern is) about our team," Coughlin said. "We have to bring our A-game."
*The Giants listed seven players as questionable for the game: running back Ahmad Bradshaw (knee/foot), center David Baas (hip shoulder), tight end Travis Beckum (knee), G Chris Snee (hip), defensive end Justin Tuck (shoulder) and safeties Kenny Phillips (knee) and Tyler Sash (hamstring).
Coughlin said he was encouraged by Bradshaw's potential availability for the game in Baltimore.
"His energy and his fire is, I think, a very important factor," Coughlin said.
Tuck did not practice for the third consecutive day, while the other questionable players worked on a limited basis. Asked if he felt good about Tuck playing, Coughlin said, "We're going to have to wait and see on that one."
If Tuck can't play, Adrian Tracy would likely join Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka and Pierre-Paul in the defensive end rotation.
"Every week I go into the game plan prepared," said Tracy, who has seen most of his playing time on special teams this season. "I get my mentality right to focus on what is required of me in the different positions that I fill and that's what you want to be is prepared at all times in case something happens where you're called on."
*Snee sat out part of the second quarter last week and missed the previous two practices, but said he felt better today.
"I'm upright and I was moving around, so I'll be good to go," Snee said. "We need all hands on deck and I was able to go out there and work a little bit today, so I'm feeling good about Sunday."
Four players are listed as probable: cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring), defensive tackle Chris Canty (neck) and wide receivers Hakeem Nicks (knee) and Rueben Randle (back). Nicks was limited in practice, while the others worked fully.
Amukamara missed the game in Atlanta, but said he is ready to face the Ravens.
"Today I think I did more running than I did all week," Amukamara said. "I had a lot of burst today."
But can he stay with speedy Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith on a go route if he has to?
"I have no problem with that," Amukamara said. "We, obviously, repped that at practice and I felt well."
*Baltimore has won 12 consecutive home games against NFC teams since 2006 and is 9-0 vs. the conference in M&T Bank Stadium under John Harbaugh.
*The Ravens are 20-3 in their last 23 home games and have won nine consecutive home finales. This is their final home game.