Here's the fundamental question about the Giants right now: How much do you weigh 2008 and the first five games of 2009, and how much do you weigh the last eight games? Do the 12-4 season and the 5-0 start still mean anything? Or is our 2-6 record over the last eight games more reflective of who we are as loath as we are to admit it?
If the answer to this question tends more toward the latter, we're in serious trouble starting with Monday night's game. The Redskins have also gone 2-6 in their last eight, but it's a much more impressive 2-6. Such a thing is indeed possible: Not only were their wins more impressive -- convincing wins over the Raiders and Broncos for them, an overtime win over the Falcons and a half-convincing win against the Cowboys for us -- their losses were less unimpressive. The 'Skins were a few makeable Shaun Suisham kicks from beating both the Cowboys and the Saints, and they held a late lead on the road against the Eagles before succumbing. While you can make the claim that these losses reflected an inept organization with an innate predisposition for blowing it, they also show that the 'Skins aren't terrible on a play-by-play basis. And on Monday night, in their building, against a mediocre opponent, and with a new General Manager evaluating them for the first time... they might be due.
All of this is moot if the Giants are who we still think they are. But if they lose this game, there's no reason to think they're anything other than a .500 team, one far removed from the success of earlier this year and the year before. In other words, the distant past in NFL terms.
**NOTE: Negotiations are heating up between the 'Skins and Mike Shanahan -- it looks like that's going to happen. This is another thing that doesn't bode well for the Giants going forward. Shanahan is probably not the cure-all he will no doubt be hailed as, but he gives the Redskins their best shot in the Dan Snyder era of becoming a respectable franchise again.
You also have to feel for Jim Zorn, who has been so consistently undermined and humiliated this year. First there was the loss to the Lions. Then there was being stripped of play-calling duties. Then there was being passive-aggressively called out by Vinnie Cerrato after he was fired. And now, no sooner does Cerrato's car pull out of the Redskins Park parking lot than the new GM is flirting with another coach. Poor guy.
Giants Offense vs. Redskins Defense
As always, this isn't a bad defense at all -- they rank 12th in the league in DVOA, the advanced Football Outsiders stat that accounts for situation and opponent. This is especially true against the run, where they rank 4th in DVOA. Like the offense, the defense is trending upward: Their -5.2 DVOA rating during the last five games would place them seventh in the league if they had performed this way all year.
The headliners are defensive end Andre Carter and rookie outside linebacker Brian Orakpo, each of whom have 11 sacks. Last week, Orakpo had 4 sacks and was named the NFC defensive player of the week.
Redskins Offense vs. Giants Defense
When the Redskins were left for dead at the beginning of the year, their offense -- particularly quarterback Jason Campbell, the offensive line, and head coach Jim Zorn -- shouldered most of the blame. Don't look now, but the Redskins have averaged 24 points in their last five games and have averaged a DVOA of 22.6. Sure, this is a selective sample, but if stretched over a full-season, this would give them the league's 5th best DVOA. In other words, the Giants shouldn't take this offense lightly.
Campbell's improvement is the biggest part of this transformation. During this five-game stretch, he is averaging a 93.1 rating and has thrown 8 TDs to 4 INTs. Campbell has been helped along by the emergence of two 2008 second-round draft picks who are coming into their own: Tight end Fred Davis, who has caught 4 TDs over the last three weeks; and wide receiver Devin Thomas, who supplanted fellow 2008 second-rounder Malcolm Kelly earlier this year and has been much more productive. Santana Moss is still is who he always has been: a dangerous deep threat but just an adequate number-one receiver. This is bad news for the Giants considering the uncertain health of Corey Webster and Aaron Ross - the former sprained his knee last Sunday and the latter re-injured his hamstring. If Ross and Webster can't go, our starting corners will be Terrell Thomas and Kevin Dockery.
They've accomplished this offensive turnaround without some of their better-known players: Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley, and offensive linemen Chris Samuels, and Randy Thomas are all long-gone for the season.
The Giants defense bounces back with a decent performance. The offense plays well enough too, and the team with more at stake pulls out a close one to keep their playoffs hope alive. Giants 23 - Redskins 20.