EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The playoffs are the payoff.
Although they have taken their customary "it's a big game because it's the next game" approach, the Giants know the stakes will be larger than usual when they conclude their home schedule against the Indianapolis Colts. A victory will improve the Giants to 9-6-1 and more importantly, guarantee their inclusion in the postseason for the first time since 2016 and just the second time since they won the Super Bowl in the 2011 season.
Despite the obvious prize, coach Brian Daboll scrupulously refrained from uttering the word "playoffs" publicly all week.
"Excited to play another game," Daboll said. "That's what we're excited about. They work hard. It's an important game for us. We're excited to play the Colts."
"We all realize what's at stake," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "But at the same time, we understand it's about handling business this week, focusing on what we have to do to win this game and making sure we're preparing as well as we can so that we play our best on Sunday."
The Giants can clinch a postseason berth at home for the first time in exactly 11 years. On Jan. 1, 2012, they defeated Dallas on the final night of the regular season to capture the NFC East title.
"The support we've gotten all year has been great," Jones said. "We really appreciate it. To do it in front of the home fans would be a great opportunity for us. We know we've got to take care of business and play as well as we can. That's what we're focused on."
View rare photos of the all-time history between the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts.
The game also has a parallel with the Giants' title run in 2007. If the Giants win, they will eliminate the angst of needing a Week 18 victory against the NFC-leading Eagles – who beat them by 26 points in their first meeting - to ensure they will be one of conference's three wild card teams. In 2007, they clinched a playoff berth with a victory in their penultimate regular-season game, in Buffalo. That eliminated the pressure of having to play their way in by beating an undefeated New England Patriots team the following week.
Should they defeat Indianapolis, the Giants would be locked into the NFC's sixth seed and will travel to face the conference's third seed – either San Francisco or Minnesota - on Super Wild Card Weekend in two weeks. The 49ers currently hold that spot but can jump ahead of the Vikings in the season's final two weeks.
"I think everybody's aware of our situation and kind of what the reality is for a lot of teams around the NFL this time of year," wide receiver Darius Slayton said. "At the end of the day, you can only focus on the week you have, and the opponent you have ahead of you, and the rest of that will take care of itself."
"None of us are naïve in the sense that we don't know if we win this game what it means," safety Julian Love said. "That's on the back of all our minds, but you've got to stay true to what we've been doing all season. For me, that's to stay in my routine, that's attacking, playing with high effort, and giving our defense, a place to stand at all times. If I just do my job, hopefully we get the win we all know what happens if we do that."
The Giants are looking to rebound from their 27-24 loss last week in Minnesota, a defeat delivered by a 61-yard Greg Joseph field goal as time expired. They jumped to records of 6-1 and 7-2 and have stayed in the race all season with consistent contributions from Jones and Saquon Barkley, a pressure-focused defense, and Daboll's strategic and motivational leadership.
Indianapolis has struggled since opening day, when it played to a 20-20 with the Houston Texans, who have won just two games all season. The Colts fired coach Frank Reich on Nov. 7. Former Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday, who had no coaching experience above the high school level, took over on an interim basis. The Colts defeated Las Vegas in their first game under Saturday but have lost their last five and eight of nine overall. They've started three different quarterbacks – Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and, last Monday, Nick Foles – and their best running back, Jonathan Taylor, is out for the season with an ankle injury. He rushed for 861 yards and caught 28 passes in 11 games.
Foles is 3-0 as a starter against the Giants, with victories in 2013, 2014 and 2017 with the Eagles, two of them in MetLife Stadium. He was also the MVP of Super Bowl LII when Philadelphia defeated New England five years ago.
"They just don't give out Super Bowl MVP trophies," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "And he has one of those, and he's got a Pro Bowl. You can tell he has a live arm, and they're trying to push the ball down the field with him. (I've) been in it long enough that I've gone against him when he was at Philly and those other places. It's going go be a challenge because he's got plenty of weapons to work with>
But Foles struggled in his first action of the season last Monday night in a 20-3 loss to the Chargers, completing 17 of 29 passes for 143 yards, throwing three interceptions and getting sacked seven times.
The Giants hope to put him on the ground several times tomorrow.
"That's the first game he's played in a while," said Martindale, who has called more blitzes than any coordinator in the league. "It's going to do nothing but get better for him, seeing things, going at a faster pace of it. But there's definitely blood in the water."
The Giants can advance to the playoffs with a victory in either of their final two games and or losses by several other teams, notably some combination of defeats by Seattle, Washington, Detroit and Green Bay. But their control their own fate and have no interest in having to rely on someone else.
"You don't want to leave it to chance," said running back Saquon Barkley. "The way you do that is by doing what you got to do this week. That's really it. You just got to treat it like another week. One game at a time, it's the most important game because it's the next game on the schedule and try to do the little things, take care of the football, and go out there and try to win the football game."
If they do that, everything else will take care of itself.
*The Giants have lost their last four games against the Colts (in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018) and trail in the regular-season series, 10-6. Their most recent victory in the series was on Dec. 22, 2002, when they defeated the Colts, 44-27, in Indianapolis. The Giants last won a home game vs. the Colts on Dec. 12, 1994, 20-6.
*The Giants are 20th in the NFL in both points-per-game (20.7) and points allowed (22.6).