Amani: We'll make playoffs

The Giants are an average team, which makes them a serious playoff contender. And wide receiver Amani Toomer, taking a cue from Jim Fassel two years ago, guaranteed that when the six spots in the NFC are finalized in the next two months, the Giants will have one of them.

"I think we're definitely a playoff team," Toomer said yesterday. "Definitely. Definitely. Without question."

Is that a guarantee?

"Playoff guarantee? Yeah, why not?" he said.

That's how it is in the NFL these days. It used to be 4-4 teams were thinking about next year. The Giants are thinking about the playoffs.

The Patriots were 4-4 last year, got hot and went on a run that never stopped. The Giants are not going to win the Super Bowl this season but they are in position to keep their season going into January.

"I think we have everything we need to make that playoff run," Toomer said. "Our schedule is favorable. The only thing we really need to do is get that momentum going. You win a couple of games, then all of a sudden the balls that were bouncing away from you are bouncing toward you. The tips are going your way.

"It's weird how it happens, but some teams win a few games and then all off a sudden they feel like, 'We're unbeatable.' That's what we're waiting for we're not hoping for, we're waiting for."

Fassel has the Giants in position to make the second half interesting not bad when you remember they needed a bus to clear all the players out of here in the offseason to fix their $17 million salary cap mess and were the only team in the NFL that didn't sign a free agent.

"I was looking at the standings and it's amazing how many people are all lumped. Look at all the 4-4 and 5-3 teams," Fassel said yesterday. "The most important part of the season is left."

There are eight games remaining on a schedule that looks like the Giants submitted it to the NFL office themselves. They don't face a team that currently has a winning record until the final game, when they play the Eagles again.

The Eagles have a two-game lead on the Giants and Redskins in the NFC East. Philly still has to play the 49ers and Rams back-to-back. St. Louis, which has won three in a row, should have Kurt Warner for that Dec. 1 game.

The second-place team in the NFC South either the Bucs, Saints or red-hot Falcons figure to get the No. 1 wild card. The Giants need to make a move to get to the No.2 wild card. Losing to the Falcons, who didn't have Michael Vick, is a game that could sabotage them in the tiebreakers.

The presence of playoff scenarios for the Giants is unexpected in a transition season. The problem wasn't necessarily the players the Giants decided to dump to clear up their cap problems; it's that their cap situation was so dreadful it prevented them from bringing in one new veteran player.

But the way the NFL is today, there are no more rebuilding plans and no patience. Thus, 24 games after getting the Giants to the Super Bowl, and not even halfway through Fassel's four-year contract, speculation started that Fassel has to win now to save his job.

"Sometimes people don't believe me, but I don't fear for my job," Fassel said. "Never have. Never will."

A coaching change is not on the Giants' agenda. Something drastic would have to happen for Fassel not to be back next season.

Now that he's back in charge of the offense after nearly three seasons, Fassel needs to keep it moving. Getting three TDs against the Jags an offensive show by Giant standards was a good start.

And when January comes, Toomer says the Giants still will be playing.
Nov. 7,02