EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – December was anything but a time of joyful celebration in 2017 and 2018 for Jon Feliciano. He played on Oakland Raiders teams that won a total of 10 games in those two years. The seasons' final month was not spent pondering playoff possibilities, but an escape from losing.
"I'll tell you, it's not fun going to work and having 15 things that need to happen for you to make the playoffs," Feliciano, now the Giants' center, said this week. "So, being able to control your own destiny is all you can ask for."
And that's exactly where the Giants are as they attempt to earn their first playoff berth since 2016 and prepare for their critical game against NFC East rival Washington in MetLife Stadium. Not one player on the active roster has played a postseason game in a Giants uniform, but this team is confident it can end that negative distinction.
"We're extremely excited," quarterback Daniel Jones said. "We're fired up, ready to go. It's a divisional game, a meaningful game in December. This is where you want to be, these are the games you want to play in. We're all fired up and can't wait to get out there."
"When you play meaningful games in December, I think that's why we all do this," coach Brian Daboll said. "You go all the way back to OTAs and to preseason and the beginning part of the season; now you're in December. And I've been on teams that have played meaningful games in December, and I've been part of teams that haven't. It's not a lot of fun when you're not playing meaningful games. So, let's come to work with a great attitude, a positive mindset. Keep getting better. And you focus on the week's opponent: That's how you have to do it. But they're important games now."
Though they lost their last two and three of their last four games, the Giants are in command of their own fate.
The Giants' 7-4 record places them third in the division and sixth in the current NFC playoff standings. But they have by far the NFL's most difficult remaining strength of schedule; their upcoming opponents have a combined winning percentage of .688. The Chicago Bears are second at .625 and third are the Commanders, their opponents tomorrow, at .600. Five of the Giants' final six games are against current playoff teams. Washington plays four of its final five games vs. current playoff teams (including San Francisco and Dallas).
The Commanders are 7-5 and in seventh place in the conference. If the season had ended Monday night, the NFC East would be the first division ever to have each team make the playoffs. But a lot can happen before it can make that claim when the final game is played on Jan. 8.
It could be a wild six weeks.
"December football is exciting," said kicker Graham Gano, who has played on everything from a Super Bowl participant to last place teams in his 13 seasons. "There's a different level of excitement from the fans down all the way to the team. It's just a different vibe. There's a different energy when it comes to December football. I've been on both sides. I've been on sides where the season's going really well and the other side where you're just playing for pride. You definitely want to be on the winning side, so that's exciting to have set ourselves up for that. I'm excited for Sunday."
The Giants will play four NFC East games in the final six weeks, two apiece against Washington and 10-1, division-leading Philadelphia – including a road game in the season finale. When the Giants host the Eagles next week, the Commanders will be resting on their bye, meaning the Giants will be their opponents in consecutive games. They Giants will also play on the road at 9-2 Minnesota and host Indianapolis, which visits Dallas tomorrow night.
In his 10 seasons as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, Wink Martindale was involved in many late-season games with postseason implications against AFC North rival Pittsburgh. He said such games "no doubt" have a different feel.
"I told the rookies, 'Everything gets faster because everybody's invested in that game – both sides of the ball,'" Martindale said. "With the young players, you just keep it simple for them. When I say keep it simple, I mean don't make it any bigger than what it is. It's a football game at the beginning of December that you need to win. It's a fun time of the year when you're in the position that we're in. So, just go out there and compete. It makes it fun for the fans, and it makes it fun for all of us. Just take it one play at a time and play as hard as you can. We'll just live with the results."
"Every division game is usually more tough," Feliciano said. "There's history behind it. And they're in your division, so you know you're going to play them twice. Every division game is usually more juice.
"Honestly, the hard part is to keep it like every other game. I think that's the thing you got to do. Every game matters. So, yes, these games matter. But the previous 11 matter, too. So, just keeping everything in perspective is important. There's a tight race in our division, and every game matters."
"This is so much fun," Gano said. "You look at the end of the year, and you always look at what games you're playing. We're lucky enough to have division games like this coming up this big stretch. It's exciting; this is what you play for. You control your own destiny, and those are the games that are very high energy all around. Washington this week, we know they're going to be coming with high energy. And so are we. So, these are the games that are exciting for us."
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.
*The Giants and Commanders are the only teams in the NFL with at least seven victories and a negative point differential. The Giants are minus-7 (225-232) and Washington is minus-3 (233-236).
*This is the first meeting in which both teams are over .500 since Jan. 1, 2017, when the 10-5 Giants defeated 8-6-1 Washington, 19-10, in FedExField.
*Washington swept the season series in 2021. Prior to that, the Giants had won the previous five games in the series.
*The Giants lead the regular-season series, 104-70-4. The postseason series is tied, 1-1.
*The Commanders are 6-1 since Week 6, the NFL's best record in that span.
*Washington has won four consecutive road games, the league's second-longest active streak behind Philadelphia's seven straight dating back to last season.
Check out the evolution of the New York Giants' uniforms through the years.