Hakeem Nicks, left, could not make this catch in a 23-10 loss this month to the Redskins at MetLife Stadium, where the Giants are 3-4. Pass interference was called.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — For the Giants, Sunday’s prime-time game against the Dallas Cowboys should be a dream scenario: home-field advantage and needing only a win to make the playoffs. Instead, MetLife Stadium could be a setting where Giants fans may be reaching for a bottle of Pepto-Bismol or a stiff brew.
The Giants (8-7) have a poor record at home (3-4) even when matched against a supposed inferior opponent, leaving behind a series of forehead-slapping performances for their seat-license-paying crowds. This year’s low points included a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 and an unsightly defeat to the Washington Redskins in Week 15. There are no explanations.
“If I had an answer to that, it wouldn’t ever happen,” Coach Tom Coughlin said of his team’s troubling home record. “Our approach is always the same.”
The Giants are 5-3 on the road and have had some notable performances away from home. They rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia in Week 3, toppled the mighty New England Patriots on the road in Week 9 and emerged victorious from a thriller at Cowboys Stadium in Week 14.
Some players said that they do not buy into the notion that the home environment relaxed them to the point of complacency, or that going on the road offered us-against-the-world motivation that comes with playing in front of a hostile crowd.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with home; I think it is just being consistent in general,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I don’t think we have been a consistent team all year-long.”
The Giants’ lack of success at home, and their triumphs on the road, runs counter to the precedent established this season by the nine teams that have already clinched playoff spots. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, all of them have thrived at home.
In the AFC, the four playoff teams — the Patriots, the Texans, the Ravens and the Steelers — have won 86.7 percent of their home games, compared with just 60 percent of their road games. The five N.F.C. playoff teams — the Packers, the 49ers, the Saints, the Lions and the Falcons — have an 83.8 winning percentage at home and a 68.4 winning percentage on the road. New Orleans, Green Bay and Baltimore are all undefeated at home.
Whether playing at Giants Stadium or MetLife Stadium, the Giants’ playoff fortunes in recent years have mirrored their home record. They finished 5-3 at home last year and 4-4 in 2009 and missed the playoffs both seasons. But they went 7-1 in 2008 and won the N.F.C. East.
This season, though, the Giants’ successful record comes with a caveat. They acquired a road win over the Jets last Saturday that might have counted as such in name only: the teams share MetLife Stadium. The Jets still did their best to make the Giants feel uncomfortable by hanging black curtains over a mural near the locker room of the team’s Super Bowl trophies. By doing so, the Jets may have unwittingly done the Giants a favor by making them feel unwelcomed, a context in which they have largely succeeded.
“We let a few slip away early at home and certain times we didn’t come to play,” receiver Victor Cruz said. “We have to come out well and be ready to play. We are fighting for our playoff lives, and this last game is going to determine that.”
The atmosphere for Sunday’s game will be playoff-like. The kickoff was flexed last week to accommodate a prime-time television audience, and the Giants will be distributing white towels at the stadium with the team’s newest rallying cry: “All In.”
The Giants are hoping that the team-first mantra will help rally them to a run in the playoffs. But in order to do that, they will need to overcome perhaps the worst best-case scenario possible for them this season and pick up a big win at home.