EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Put the annual Debacle in Dallas in the rearview mirror. It's just one loss for the New York Giants in a 16-game season that has all the available evidence indicating the Dallas Cowboys are a vastly superior team.
This Sunday against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS) should serve as much more of a true litmus test for this season. The Bills are more in the Giants' wheelhouse, and the outcome could play a major role in determining when quarterback-of-the-future Daniel Jones makes his debut as the starter.
The Giants weren't expected to beat the Cowboys on the road in their opener. They were a touchdown underdog in most sportsbooks with Dallas as the defending NFC East champion and possessing a superior roster.
Of course, that didn't mean the Giants needed to be overmatched and, essentially, noncompetitive in a 35-17 blowout loss that could've been worse had the Cowboys not eased off the gas pedal midway through the third quarter. The Giants looked more like a team destined to be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick than a playoff spot, and now have emerged as an underdog in their home opener against the Bills.
That isn't overly encouraging, but this is the Giants' chance to show last week was a misrepresentation of their team. If that is not the case, it's going to be another long season.
"There is always urgency," quarterback Eli Manning said before adding that "you have to understand the difference between stressing and forcing, and urgency."
It's a fine line to walk as the Giants approach a game that will more accurately depict what fans can expect from this group with an extremely young defense and an offense that isn't likely to be dominant this season. A loss and it will likely devolve into another disaster. It would be the sixth time in seven years the Giants started 0-2. New York failed to top seven wins in any of those seasons. Why would this time be any different?
The Giants need to win at home against an opponent that is not expected to be in the Super Bowl mix. If they do, they have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins on deck. That is a manageable slate that leaves hope for a successful season.
If they don't win on Sunday, it's easy to envision how this could get ugly, even for those who entered the season with optimism. The calls for the rookie quarterback will only get louder, no matter how well Manning and the offense play. What is the point of playing Manning, 38, if he's not able to carry the Giants, and the team around him isn't good enough to win consistently? The Giants would seem to be inevitably heading toward a playoff-less season for the seventh time in eight years. At least if Jones is starting, he would be gaining invaluable experience.
A win on Sunday and the dream of mediocrity (or something better) can at least persist. Manning's spot as the starter on a team that still harbors realistic playoff dreams still makes some sense. But it becomes less sensible with each early-season loss, even for Manning's biggest backers.
The Giants aren't allowing themselves to go there just yet, even if we will.
"We're doing the math on this one game. We're trying to be 1-0 this week," coach Pat Shurmur said. "We don't focus on [the ramifications of 0-2]. I don't focus on it. It's not something we talk about moving forward. We're putting all of our focus on what we're going to do this week."
This week's game isn't as difficult as last week's, but it's not going to be easy. The Bills' defense is legit. The Bills had the league's second-ranked defense last season, and Shurmur admitted Buffalo has a top 5-caliber defense loaded with talent.
Overall though, Buffalo is still not in the same league talent-wise as the Cowboys from top to bottom. Plus, it's the Giants' home opener. Good or even decent teams win at home, something the Giants haven't been able to do in recent years. They're 4-12 at home the past two seasons and have just one winning record at MetLife Stadium in the past six years. They must protect their own turf if they want to be taken seriously.
"It's a home game, the first one of the year, so it's definitely a big game for us," safety Jabrill Peppers said.
If they can't handle the Bills in their home opener, who can they handle? The Dolphins? Maybe the Redskins? Probably not a whole lot of teams on their schedule.
For now, the Giants are preaching patience.
"Don't panic," running back Saquon Barkley said. "It's not like I really have to give that message to the team. It doesn't feel like that in the locker room. I feel like it's more everyone outside of our locker room that's panicking."
That seems fair after Week 1. We don't know based off one game what the Giants will be just yet. But if they can't beat the Bills at home on Sunday, there is real reason for concern that this season will be similar to the past two years, only with the calls for Jones getting louder by the week.