Giants' path to postseason has Super familiar look to it

The New England Patriots look like the best team in football. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are clear favorites to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017.

The NFC is up in the air. The conference’s top team, the Dallas Cowboys, has been impressive but is not unbeatable. The Giants know — they beat the ’Boys in Week 1. The door is open for someone in the NFC to slip into the playoffs, get hot and challenge — and possibly beat — the AFC representative, very likely the mighty Patriots.

Stop me if this scenario sounds familiar.

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So the Giants (5-3) have an entire second half of the NFL season remaining entering Monday night’s visit from the Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1). So they are a flawed team. They have no running game. They turn the ball over too often. They’ve barely squeaked out all of their wins over the Cowboys, Saints, Ravens, Rams and Eagles. And this Sunday’s results, with all three NFC East foes winning, puts extra pressure on Big Blue facing Cincy under Monday’s bright lights. The division lines up Cowboys (8-1), Giants (5-3), Washington (5-3-1), Philly (5-4). A loss to the Bengals further muddies the path to the postseason.

But raise your hand if, in either 2007 or 2011, you believed in Week 10 that the Giants were going to win the Super Bowl that season. And not only that, but beat Belichick, Brady and the Patriots both times, including in 2007, when Tom Coughlin’s team ruined the juggernaut Pats’ bid for an undefeated season.

For all of the Giants’ misgivings this year — and there are plenty — they are not far behind where they were in either of their two previous championship seasons in the standings. And they are far from perfect, just as they were prior to both of those magical runs.

In both 2007 and 2011, the Giants had a 6-2 record entering Week 10, just one win ahead of where they are now. There are clear differences, of course: The 2007 team had scored 30 or more points four times in its first eight games, for example, and this year’s Giants haven’t scored 30 yet.

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But think even of the potential parallels in the final standings between 2007 and the current state of 2016: In 2007, the 13-3 Cowboys were the NFC’s top seed, against the AFC’s 16-0 Patriots. The Giants held the NFC’s five seed as the first wild card before beating the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Packers and Pats to raise the Lombardi Trophy.

Plus, who doesn’t want to see Manning vs. Brady III? Can you imagine, Eli Manning, turning 36 in January, facing Brady at 39 with a chance to beat New England’s golden boy head-to-head for a third time in three meetings on the game’s biggest stage?

Ben McAdoo certainly didn’t want to entertain playoff talk after Friday’s practice across from MetLife Stadium.

“We don’t look at things from a big picture standpoint as far as this is what we need to do to get here or be seeded here or there,” McAdoo said. “November is about jockeying for position one game at a time. You have to focus on your preparation and find a way to get better each and every week and get a win.”

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And sure, maybe McAdoo’s Giants won’t have a Coughlin-Giants run in them. Maybe, even if the Giants get into the playoffs and reach the Super Bowl, Belichick facing a rookie head coach will be too big of a mismatch.

Could Eli Manning put together a Super Bowl run with these Giants?

Could Eli Manning put together a Super Bowl run with these Giants?

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

But remember, it all started with a “maybe” for the Giants in Week 17 of the 2007 season, when their epic 38-35 loss to the Patriots proved at least that New England was beatable. And the Giants always win just when people forget about them and count them out.

The 2016 Giants no doubt have a long way to go, but they have the quarterback who can win if they can get him into the postseason, and a suddenly formidable defense.

Big Blue is even gunning for a fourth straight win now in Week 10 – just as the 2011 team was at the same juncture. Beating the Bengals then would have them chasing that 2007 season’s six-game winning streak which, it turns out, foreshadowed greatness later that winter.

Maybe. Just maybe.

***

GIANTS VS. BENGALS, at METLIFE STADIUM, 8:30 p.m.

LINE: GIANTS BY 2½; O/U: 47

TV: ESPN (Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden)

RADIO: WFAN 101.9 (Bob Papa and Carl Banks); in Spanish on WADO 1280 AM (Nestor Rosario and Francis Adames)

FORECAST: Partly cloudy with rising temperatures late. High 56°, Low 37°

Two bold predictions by Pat Leonard:

1. CLEAN SHEET: The Giants offense will commit zero turnovers for the first time this season. Big Blue ranks 29th in the NFL with a minus-7 turnover differential.

The offense has turned the ball over at least once in all eight games. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s assessment: “Son of a gun, eight games this year we’ve had a turnover in every one, so hopefully it’s good karma you’re asking me that question.”

2. HAVE ANOTHER DOUGHNUT: The Giants will not allow a Bengals touchdown. Why? No turnovers by the offense will mean no short fields for Andy Dalton.

Tom Brady and the Patriots appear to be best team in the league.

Tom Brady and the Patriots appear to be best team in the league.

(David Richard/AP)

Leon Hall will help Janoris Jenkins and the Giants game plan for A.J. Green and Hall’s former team. McAdoo’s team finally will play a clean game, resulting in an impressive, 24-9 win.

***

BENGALS HOT READ: DT Geno Atkins

In his seventh year out of Georgia, 28-year-old Geno Atkins is a bona fide star on the interior of the Bengals’ defensive line. He’s twice eclipsed 10 sacks in a season during his career in Cincinnati, an outstanding and rare achievement for a defensive tackle.

And this season, he’s second on the team with 3.5 sacks. Atkins’ job on Monday night in East Rutherford will be made easier because of Justin Pugh’s absence. Pugh, the Giants’ starting left guard, sprained his knee in last week’s victory over the division-rival Eagles. Backup Brett Jones entered for Pugh in the win and will start in his place Monday night.

As a right defensive tackle, Atkins lines up near the opposing left guard, so Jones should see a good amount of Atkins over the course of the night.

That matchup favors the Bengals. It will be Jones’ first career NFL start.

“Every guard faces a big challenge when they go against Geno,” coach Ben McAdoo said this week. “He’s got a tremendously quick first step. He’s built low to the ground, that’s an advantage for him. And he’s very disruptive.”

TRAINING ROOM: LB Rey Maualuga (fibula) is OUT. DE Michael Johnson (calf) and WR James Wright (hamstring) are QUESTIONABLE.

GIANTS HOT READ: CB Janoris Jenkins

Starting with Darrelle Revis in Week 1, Bengals wideout A.J. Green has made a mockery of opposing cornerbacks all season.

He entered Sunday second in the league in receiving, trailing only the Falcons’ Julio Jones, who posted a 300-yard receiving game in Week 4. The Giants paid Janoris Jenkins the big bucks in the offseason for just this kind of situation. The former Rams cornerback should draw the challenge of slowing down Green on Monday. But Green is rolling and clicking with quarterback Andy Dalton.

The Georgia product is averaging more than 120 yards receiving per game over his past five contests. And he’s caught fewer than six passes just twice all season. If given the assignment of shadowing Green, Jenkins is confident he’ll perform. He’s faced the receiver both in college (Jenkins played for Florida) and in the NFL with his previous team.

However, that’s not to say Jenkins doesn’t respect his opponent. “He is fast, physical, rangy, long, has a big catch radius,” Jenkins said of Green this week. “And they like to give him the ball.”

TRAINING ROOM: OG Justin Pugh (knee) is OUT. S Andrew Adams (shoulder), LB Jonathan Casillas (calf), WR Victor Cruz (ankle) and DE Kerry Wynn (concussion) are QUESTIONABLE.

With

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