Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 10 Most Important Games of the NFL Season: How the Giants Lucked Their Way Into the Title

by John Huffstetler

The fluky nature of the NFL and luck needed to win a title was never more evident than this season. Any number of teams could easily have hoisted the Lombardi trophy besides the Giants, but several games intertwined to create the situation necessary for them to win. Below is a list of the 10 most important games this season in determining the champion and the "what if" moments surrounding each game.

10) Week 3- NY Giants 29 - Philadelphia 16- The Eagles only finished one game back of the NFC East division title this year despite their major struggles this season. Had they won this game, they would have won the division and the Giants would have missed the playoffs. Entering the 4th quarter of this contest, the Eagles led 16-14 before the Giants reeled of 15 unanswered points for the come-from-behind victory. The Eagles outgained the Giants 376-334, but lost the turnover margin by 3 in this early home game that turned out to be integral to their season.

9) Week 10- Houston 37 - Tampa Bay 9- For those of you wondering why this seemingly meaningless game is on this list, this was the game that Houston lost Matt Schaub for the season. Houston had the potentially best team this year behind their strong running game and elite defense. Two key injuries, Schaub and Mario Williams, derailed their chances for success in the playoffs. Before Schaub's injury, the Texans looked like a guarantee for a first-round bye because of their 6-3 record and easy remaining schedule. Once Schaub and subsequently Matt Leinart were lost for the year, the Texans didn't have the offensive balance under rookie TJ Yates to succeed in the playoffs.

8) NFC Divisional Round- San Francisco 36 - New Orleans 32- This was probably the game of the year strictly from an entertainment perspective. The popular, idiotic analysis of the Giants late in their playoff run is that they were the "hottest team in the NFL." More astute NFL observers indicated that the Saints won 8 straight to end the regular season, including an easy win over the Giants. Should they have won this game, the Giants would have had to return to New Orleans and face a Saints team on a 10-game winning streak in a loud dome, meaning the Saints would have been in the Super Bowl.

7) NFC Wild Card Round- Denver 29 - Pittsburgh 23 (OT)- The elimination of Pittsburgh by the Tebow-led Broncos had more significance for the Patriots than the Giants (obviously). New England basically had two byes because the Broncos had no legitimate shot of beating the Pats in New England. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, played the Patriots well in a 25-17 home win earlier in the season. They could have potentially knocked off the Pats, changing the Giants Super Bowl match-up. The Demaryius Thomas TD reception in OT (pictured to the right) sealed the Steelers fate.

6) NFC Divisional Round- NY Giants 37 - Green Bay 20- Defeating the 15-1 Packers in such a convincing way was a truly impressive result for the Giants. The Hail Mary before half that gave the Giants a 10-point lead heading into the locker room was the defining moment of this contest. New York then cruised in the 2nd half to victory, thanks in large part to a +3 TO margin.

5) Week 15- Kansas City 19 - Green Bay 14- This was a disastrous game for the Packers season not only because it ruined their undefeated campaign, but offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga and Derrek Sherrod both went down with injuries during this contest. These injuries plus those of Chad Clifton and Greg Jennings (despite Clifton, Bulaga, and Jennings playing in the Giants game) severely hindered the Packers offensive production and chances against New York.

4) Week 14- NY Giants 37 - Dallas 34- Another "what if" game in the NFC East. Dallas needed to win only one of the two meetings this year against the Giants to win the division and eliminate them from playoff contention. In this meeting, Dallas led 34-22 with 5:41 left in the 4th quarter, only to squander the lead with a few missed opportunities and poor clock management. Yet another game this year where fortune was squarely on the Giants side.

3) AFC Championship Game- New England 23 - Baltimore 20- Both Super Bowl squads benefited from favorable circumstances surrounding this game. New England was fortunate here to advance to the Super Bowl thanks to a botched Billy Cundiff field goal attempt that would have sent the game to OT. The Giants benefited from New England's win because star TE Rob Gronkowski injured his ankle (pictured to the right), making him a glorified decoy in the Super Bowl. In retrospect, Gronkowski's lack of health for the final game was the major deciding factor in determining the victor.

2) NFC Championship Game- NY Giants 20 - San Francisco 17 (OT)- A terrific game that was decided by a Kyle Williams fumble in OT. Neither team could move the ball effectively in the overtime session, but once Williams fumbled, the Giants simply needed to set up a Tynes field goal for victory. Like most of the season, the Giants earned the victory because they were able to protect the ball better than their opponents.

1) Super Bowl- NY Giants 21 - New England 17- The Giants benefited in the season's final game from the critical injury to Gronkowski, but also several lucky breaks and bounces. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks both fumbled after receptions, only to have one nullified by an unrelated penalty and one to squirt 5 yards away straight to the Giants. On multiple occasions, Pats receivers had opportunities to make huge catches that would have sealed victory as well. Gronkowski's tipped ball for an Int to Blackburn early in the 4th and Welker's miss-timed jump later (pictured to the right) in the period both would have secured the victory for New England; instead, the Giants gained possession and marched down field for the game-winning touchdown.

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  1. You forgot to include what if the Giants plane had gone down flying out to Indy, what if Jason Pierre-Paul's family never left Haiti, and what if Eli didn't have the biggest dick in the NFL. All 3 of these things could have gone either way. ELITE

    1. Even you can admit that they had a very fortunate season.