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Giants know playoff ticket not punched after giving themselves ‘opportunity’

Forget the coachspeak coming out of his mouth. The truth was written all over Brian Daboll’s face.

The superstitious Daboll shaved his beard over the weekend and came away with a goatee that isn’t popular at home but also isn’t going away after the Giants snapped out of a funk to leap closer to the playoffs with their first win in five games, a 20-12 victory Sunday night over the Commanders.

“Look, I try to change things up when things aren’t going well, and that includes looking like this,” Daboll said after his defense made two late red-zone stands to survive a hairy ending. “Trust me, my wife and daughters are not very happy about that, but I’ll try to do anything for a win. It was almost a mustache, but I gained I don’t know how many pounds the last couple weeks so I kept a little bit of the goatee to cover up some of the other parts.”

The Giants’ chance of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2016 increased from about 46 percent at kickoff to 87 percent with the win, according to A loss would have dropped their odds to 27 percent. A win over the Vikings next week increases the odds to greater than 99 percent, but a loss to the Vikings followed by a win over the hapless Colts in two weeks still pushes the likelihood to 98 percent, without accounting for any other results around the league.

Giants coach Brian Daboll.

In other words, things are looking up again after the 0-3-1 stretch that left the Giants on the edge of the wild-card race. Shaving is easy. Looking in the mirror to find on-field changes is not.

“Winning this game or losing this game didn’t mean a guarantee for the playoffs, but it just gives us opportunity and that’s all you want,” safety Julian Love said in a jubilant postgame locker room. “[Eighty-seven] is better than zero percent. We are going to stay consistent and stay locked in.”

Here’s what’s already clinched: The Giants’ first non-losing season since 2016, which represents a significant step forward in Daboll’s first season after the Giants matched the Jets for the worst five-year record in the league (22-59) from 2017-21. They occupy the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs entering Week 16, with a one-game lead (plus the tiebreaker) over the Commanders and a 1 ¹/₂-game lead over the Seahawks and Lions.

“The significance of this win was — I know it’s boring — was it’s a division game,” Daboll said. “I’m not focused on what it means: We’re 8-5-1 and we went 1-0 this week. There are a lot of guys who contributed to the outcome of the game with big plays in critical times, and that’s what we’re going to need going forward.”

Even if Daboll can’t — or won’t — see through the forest, others can.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout the past couple years,” running back Saquon Barkley said. “What does it really mean? It means we give ourselves a better chance of accomplishing our goals. … We knew what we were capable of doing and we put ourselves in the driver’s seat to control our own destiny.”

The Giants (11) and Vikings (10) have played the most one-score games in the league — the most close shaves, if you will — so Saturday’s matchup figures to come down the wire. Any advantage helps, so quarterback Daniel Jones told Daboll that he has to keep the new look.

“Not really sure that really makes a difference, but you try to change it up,” Daboll said, agreeing it stays. “There’s a lot of skin underneath that beard, but so be it.”

Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) fumbles the ball after getting hit by Dexter Lawrence.

In New York football facial hair lore, another plucky underdog — the 1968 Jets — had a core of players who sported mustaches and goatees until clinching a division title. Joe Namath kept his Fu Manchu until he was paid a reported $10,000 by a sponsor to shave — and it didn’t change his good vibes on the way to Super Bowl III.

Only 15 of the Giants’ 53 active players — four starters — have playoff experience. It didn’t look that way against the Commanders.

“We knew it wasn’t technically a playoff game, but in a way it did feel like one,” said defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who is searching for his first playoff trip during an eight-year career. “We fought like it was one, and I’m proud of the team for doing that.”

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