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this week's game

The Giants Are Down, But Not Out

For a while now, the Giants have had three games in particular circled on their calendar — games against teams they'd be battling for either the division title or a Wild Card spot. The first of those, Week 11 against the Eagles, resulted in a loss, but as losses go, it was pretty typical: too many turnovers, a couple of lead changes, that sort of thing. The second of those games, of course, will be remembered as one of the most devastating regular-season games in the history of the franchise. The third will be played on Sunday. At some point, they'll probably need to win one of these critical games.

Actually, technically, the Giants don't have to beat Green Bay on Sunday to make the playoffs (though they'll need some help to get in if they don't). But a win not only guarantees them a playoff berth, it provides a new story line for a team that desperately needs one. (Generally, unless he saves a family of kittens on the way to the stadium, you don't want to see your punter's name appear in print this much in any given week.) A loss means a very nervous week in advance of the regular season finale against Washington. A loss means scoreboard watching. A loss means a week of headlines about how the team is collapsing as badly as the defense did in the fourth quarter last weekend. Needless to say, this would be a terrible time to lose again.

The Giants played pretty good football from halftime of the Jacksonville game (i.e., when Giants fans hurt Antrel Rolle's feelings) until about halfway through the fourth quarter on Sunday. The catch: That stretch included two games against bad teams, and the last of those games ended with, well, you remember. A win at Green Bay reminds the Giants that they can still beat a good team, the kind of thing they'll eventually need if they do get to the postseason. (Though we suppose there's always the possibility of facing the NFC West champ.) In any case, they return on Sunday to the site of one of the Coughlin/Manning Giants' greatest victories, one that earned them a spot in Super Bowl XLII. But the stage is not yet set for another improbable playoff run. Getting to the postseason needs to happen first, and it can happen on Sunday.

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images