There is one thing you can count on when it comes to the New York Giants of late: They are as maddeningly inconsistent as a fadeaway jumper.
But when the pass rush is bulldozing, Victor Cruz is salsa-ing would-be tacklers and Ahmad Bradshaw is zigzagging through linebackers, the Giants can beat anyone. Really, anyone. Other NFC playoff teams are more consistent, but they're also duller, a little less frightening, a little more what-you-see-is-what-you-get.
So how are we die-hard Giants fans supposed to remain tethered to reality -- that our team is just a touch over mediocre -- when we know at any moment the Giants could decide to become outstanding, sack the quarterback a dozen times in two games, and then go on to win the Super Bowl? Yes, they lost five of six contests after a 6-2 start before posting back-to-back wins against the rival Jets and Cowboys to earn a playoff berth.
But just ask yourself one question: A week from Sunday, whose team bus do you think the Green Bay Packers hope to see rolling up to Lambeau Field, the Falcons or the Giants? Easy answer. (The Falcons are a bat-on-ball kind of team -- smacking it the other way, drilling it through the hole. The Giants are the scary cleanup hitters -- a swing and a miss three times, a blast over the wall the next.)
And this is what makes the Giants frustrating. I blame their Super Bowl XLII victory over the previously invincible Patriots for making these past four seasons, including this regular season, especially torturous.
That's the lingering legacy of their 2007 season: ever-present, heart-wrenching hope.
Sept. 16, 2007, was an idyllic fall football Sunday afternoon -- unless you were a Giants fan. I went for a long run in advance of their home game that afternoon against the Packers, believing somehow that the farther I ran, the less energy for frustration I would have when the Giants inevitably continued playing like one of the NFL's worst teams. Not so. I still had plenty of energy. I made phone calls to family; I texted relentlessly.
"The Giants aren't just bad," I wrote, "they're heartless." I wanted to turn off the broadcast and stare at the wall instead.
And then, Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver appeared on screen, standing a few yards in front of the Giants' bench. Key members of the team's pathetic defense sat with their heads down, eyes on the turf. Oliver offered the truth, sans sugar, to everyone watching.
"I have not seen any kind of emotion or any kind of leadership," Oliver said on camera. "Usually guys like Antonio Pierce, Michael Strahan are up trying to fire the guys up, but these guys have just been dead all day."
Oliver's message was, and remains to this day, the most direct, accurate and honest sideline report I've seen. It was all meat, no fat. The Packers defeated the Giants 35-13 that Sunday, and the Giants appeared very much like a sinking ship. Of course, they weren't; they won their next six games and snagged the wild card.
Back to this weekend.
In an effort to rein in my annual expectations for the Giants, I often try to convince myself that they were playing lights-out football at the end of that 2007 season. In retrospect, couldn't everyone feel the building momentum, culminating in that epic almost-win against the undefeated Patriots in the regular-season finale?
I employ this false logic because if the Giants tank in the second half of the season, as they've done every year since, I can tell myself that a repeat of 2007 isn't possible. But the reality of that 2007 season is the Giants barely made the playoffs. If not for a 17-point fourth quarter against the Bills -- the Bills! -- in the penultimate game of the season, the Giants would have needed a victory against the Patriots to even reach the postseason. Super Bowl XLII has destroyed the ability of Giants fans to be truly pessimistic about the team's chances.
Which brings us to my inability to see the Giants as anything but contenders this postseason. I see Hakeem Nicks filling the 2007 cleats of Plaxico Burress; I see a pass rush that's equally as fast and strong as the one led by Strahan; I see Eli Manning still under center, coach Tom Coughlin still stalking the sidelines. I see playmakers at all the crucial positions.
The irrational side of me, the one blinded by the wonder of 2007, hopes the Giants aren't shooting off of one foot anymore, that they have their feet firmly planted going into the playoffs.
Kate Fagan is a columnist for espnW. You can follow her on Twitter at @katefagan3.