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Upon Further Review: Playoff tests coming in December


*Coach Ben McAdoo recaps the Giants win over the Browns after viewing the game tape: *

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The calendar flips to December on Thursday and with its arrival, the intensity and importance of every NFL game is amplified, especially for the Giants.

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Why the Giants in particular? They have put together their longest winning streak in eight years at six games to improve to 8-3, the second-best record in the NFC. But they remain two games behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East race.

Except for 1-10 San Francisco and 2-9 Chicago – who will, uh, clash Sunday in Chicago - every NFC team harbors dreams of making the playoffs.

The Giants are unique because of the sharp improvement in the records of the opponents they will face as opposed to those they've recently vanquished.

Only one team the Giants defeated in their winning streak currently has a winning record, 6-5 Baltimore (Philadelphia, which is 5-5 entering its game tonight against Green Bay, could make it two). Their last three opponents – the Bengals, Bears and Browns, who fell to the Giants yesterday in Cleveland, 27-13 - are a combined 5-28-1).

But four of the five teams remaining on the schedule are above .500, and the Eagles will make it unanimous if they win. The Giants arguably have the most challenging five-game finish in the league. It begins with three games against teams currently holding or sharing division leads (at Pittsburgh, and home vs. Dallas and Detroit, a threesome with a combined record of 23-10). After clearing that gauntlet, the Giants will play division road games in Philadelphia (on a Thursday night) and at 6-4-1 Washington.

"(We) pretty much have to look at December as playoff games," defensive end Olivier Vernon said after the victory in Cleveland. "December is going to determine our destiny. We just have to do what we can and play Giants football."

Which is what coach Ben McAdoo emphasized on his weekly conference call today.

"We're going to have a week-to-week mentality," McAdoo said. "I think it's important to address the elephant in the room, so to speak. Everything gets cranked up a notch in December with everyone jockeying for position. We just need to make sure we play our best football moving forward.

"All of our hard work up until this point has set the table for us to be playing meaningful football in December, which is what everyone in the league shoots for."

The follow-up question to McAdoo was whether he considers the running game to be more important in the coming month.

"December football, everything is important," McAdoo said. "That's where our identity needs to take place."
McAdoo believes the Giants are "absolutely" heading in the right direction as they prepare for their crucial stretch run.

"Fundamentals, we're getting better," he said. "We've been playing smarter football. Been playing tough and hanging in there mentally and physically. Playing tough. Committed to discipline and poise, absolutely."

They'll need all that and more in the coming month.

• The Giants had 22 players in uniform yesterday with no more than three years of experience. That's virtually half the active roster, and they have others – such as cornerback Janoris Jenkins – who have never been in a playoff chase. How will McAdoo deal with that inexperience?

"We're going to rely on our veterans to lead," he said. "It's important this time of year that the players spend time together. Spend more time together talking about their football and getting our football right. We need to be mentally dialed-in on our preparation. It starts way before game day."

• Rookie wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who is second on the team with 44 receptions, was not targeted once in Cleveland. It was the first game this season in which he did not catch a pass.

"It was a combination of a lot of different things," McAdoo said. "It's unfortunate that that's the way the game went. Actually, (he) had a nice (22-yard) carry there in the fourth quarter to get us in scoring range. We have some things from an offensive perspective that when you see the type of coverages we did yesterday, you would like to get the ball in his hands."

• Odell Beckham, Jr. returned three punts for 35 yards yesterday. Those interested in whether he will continue in that role will have to watch the game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"We will get to that when we talk through our game plan meetings," McAdoo said. "That's not something I'm going to be talking about with all of you."

• McAdoo was asked whether running back Shane Vereen, on injured reserve with a triceps injury since Week 3, will practice this week.

"We will wait and see," McAdoo said. "We will take a look at that."

• Safety Nat Berhe and linebacker Mark Herzlich are in the NFL concussion protocol.

• McAdoo said it's too early to tell if any of the injured offensive linemen – Justin Pugh (knee), Marshall Newhouse (knee), and/or Brett Jones (calf) – will be able to play vs. the Steelers.

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