EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants can look at the NFC standings and see the obvious.
Some team with a very good record is probably not going to make the playoffs.
With four weeks to go in the regular season, the Giants and five other NFC teams have at least eight wins. In any other year, that might be good enough to advance.
Not this year. The NFC West is dreadful and the winner of that division is going to take a postseason spot.
It leaves the Giants (8-4) with one thought heading into their game against at Minnesota (5-7) on Sunday — they have to win out.
Tom Coughlin’s team has little choice. They enter the final quarter of the season tied with Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East, although the Eagles have the tiebreaker because they beat New York in their first meeting.
The teams will meet again at the New Meadowlands Stadium on Dec. 19.
“I think that’s what you live for and that’s what you play for,” Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield said Monday. “That’s exciting. You get to the end of a long, hard season and you’re beat up and it’s physically taxing, you want to have pressure and you want to have something to play for.
“You want to have excitement and things on the line at the end of the season and that’s what you play for,” Cofield added. “I’d definitely rather be in this scenario than 2-10 and just packing up your stuff for the offseason.”
After consecutive losses to Dallas and Philadelphia, the Giants kept their playoff hopes alive the past two weeks with wins at home against Jacksonville and Washington.
In the crowded NFC, that was good enough to keep pace.
Atlanta (10-2) has a one-game lead over New Orleans (9-3) in the NFC South, while Chicago (9-3) has a game lead over Green Bay (8-4) in the NFC North. Seattle and St. Louis share the NFC West lead at 6-6.
Tampa Bay (7-5) is stiil in the hunt despite losing to Atlanta on Sunday.
“We’re just trying to keep up with everyone else,” Giants guard Chris Snee said. “You look at the score and you think New Orleans is going to lose and fall one back, but they come back and win and Green Bay had a huge second half and they win. Chicago wins. So just trying to keep up and, not to mention, most importantly, Philadelphia won, so the goal is always to make the playoffs, but we want to win the division, too, so the only way to do that is to win out.”
Keeping pace has allowed the Giants to get some people healthy.
Steve Smith, who set a franchise record with 107 receptions last season, and tackle David Diehl, who was sidelined for the first time in his career with hip and hamstring injuries, both practiced on a limited basis last week and are closer to returning.
Tackle Shawn Andrews, who has missed the last two games with back problems, also is feeling better this week. Receiver Hakeem Nicks, who had a team-high nine touchdown catches before being hurt against the Eagles, may starting running this week. He had an emergency procedure on his lower right leg to relieve serious swelling.
The positive for New York is that the backups have played exceptionally well. Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe have taken over on the left side of the offensive line and played well, while Mario Manningham and the recently signed Derek Hagan have filled in at the receiver spots with Smith and Nicks out.
“You expect there to be a significant drop-off when you lose the quality of guys that we lost, but it’s a testament to the coaching we have and a testament of the guys that we put in there,” Cofield said. “Some guys who hadn’t played football in months stepped right in and did an admirable job. The best that we have in there, the mainstays like Kareem McKenzie, Chris Snee, Eli Manning, and all those guys stepped up their game and we were able to hold it together.”
What’s should make the final month of the season interesting is that the schedule is filled with divisional rivalries for all the contenders.
While away for three of their final four games, the Giants will play the Packers and Redskins in addition to the resurgent Vikings, who are 2-0 under interim coach Leslie Frazier, and Eagles.
Philadelphia has two games with the Cowboys, who have lost once under interim coach Jason Garrett, along with the Giants and Vikings.
The Packers play Detroit, New England, the Giants and Chicago, while the Bears have New England, Minnesota, the Jets and Green Bay.
Atlanta might have the easiest schedule with the only tough game being the Saints. New Orleans also has Baltimore, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
“It’s December,” Coughlin said. “You’ve got to be in a position where your team understands completely that you have to win. You’ve got to continue to win. You’ve got to be in that spot if you’re going to have a chance”