If the NFL season were 11 games long, Ben McAdoo would have to be in the conversation for NFL coach of the year. The rookie mentor has a New York Giants team that hasn’t tasted the postseason since 2011 and closed the Tom Coughlin era with three consecutive losing campaigns at 8-3.
The stretch run will ultimately define McAdoo’s first go around in the big chair because that’s where the meat of the Giants schedule lies, starting with a desperate Pittsburgh Steelers team in Week 13.
Following Ben Roethlisberger and Co. are the NFL-best Cowboys, the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions and two divisional road games to close things out, at Philadelphia and at Washington.
The Giants have put enough money in the bank to overcome a stumble or two, but anything more than that and a postseason berth that looks certain today could evaporate quickly.
While most can acknowledge the Giants, who have won six consecutive games, are much-improved, especially defensively, there is also a wary eye on just how small their margin of error has been for most of the campaign.
Before Sunday’s victory at winless Cleveland, the rare gimme on an NFL schedule, New York had somehow advanced to four games over .500 with a point differential of plus-four, an almost impossible pattern to follow moving forward while expecting similar success, especially with the degree of difficulty morphing from basic arithmetic to calculus starting this week.
How different will it be?
Well, New York’s last five opponents own a combined 14-40 record and sport quarterbacks like Case Keenum, Jay Cutler and Josh McCown, while the next five are 34-19-1 with Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins under center.
In fact, the Giants are likely going to be the favored team only one more time this regular season, on Dec. 18 when the Lions visit MetLife Stadium. And even that could be revisited if, say, Pittsburgh and Dallas wax the Giants while Detroit continues to win.
“It’s that time. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I feel as if we’re ready,” star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “I feel as if there are steps, like I said, that we still have to take. And right now we’re focused on the Steelers. Going against a great team. Great offense, great defense. They’ve pretty much got it all. It’s a big test for us.”
It’s not fair to punish the Giants for taking care of business during the soft part of their schedule because that’s what good teams are expected to do. That’s also only part of the equation, however, and persevering through the next five weeks with say three wins would put New York at 11, comfortably in the playoffs while spiking all the doubters.
Two might bring the postseason and anything less than that will likely measure as a full-fledged collapse and a fifth straight year out of the playoffs.
None of those denouncements have been written, though, so give McAdoo credit for being superlative so far. But also understand, there is still some really heavy lifting left to be done.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, CBS Baltimore, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.