This is the beauty of the NFL. The draft is almost as big as the season, and it makes this game one that could prove important come April.
The playoffs are out of the realm of realistic possibility for the Giants and 49ers. They’re playing for little more than pride and jockeying for draft position at this point. That’s where this Sunday’s matchup comes into play, even if the coaches and players don’t look at it that way.
“Listen, this is pro football, this is our job,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. “We get paid very well to do this job. We only have 16 opportunities to go out and compete and this is one of them. We get to go to the West Coast, planning to compete. And I expect the players to be excited.”
The 49ers (0-9) currently own the NFL’s worst record, a dishonor that would come with the consolation prize of the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. The Cleveland Browns (0-8) are only one week behind as the league’s only other winless team.
Then come the Giants (1-7), this NFL season’s biggest disappointment. They would pick third if the 2018 NFL draft order were determined after Week 9. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) are the only other team with fewer than three wins.
Of the four teams, the Giants and Browns appear to be the only two realistically in the market for a quarterback. The 49ers recently traded for Jimmy Garoppolo and invested a second-round pick. That would likely preclude them from the quarterback conversation unless Garoppolo really failed to impress or something strange happened along the way. The Bucs, meanwhile, have Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.
The higher the Giants pick, the more likely they could identify a quarterback too good to pass up as their next franchise QB. The early options appear to be USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. Maybe even Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has worked his way into the mix.
The Giants-49ers matchup could go a long way in determining just how high the Giants will select in the draft, and if they even have a shot at the top quarterback of their choice. A win this Sunday would likely put them out of the running for the No. 1 overall pick.
This is both teams’ best chance for a victory the rest of the season. The winless 49ers are a one-point favorite at home against a Giants team that was embarrassed at home Sunday in a 34-point loss to the Rams. It's likely the only time either of these teams will be favored over the final seven weeks.
The remaining schedule for both teams is difficult. The Giants’ opponents after San Francisco have a .593 winning percentage. Only one of their final seven opponents currently has a losing record -- the Oakland Raiders (4-5), who will host the Giants in December.
It’s going to be difficult for the injury-ravaged and demoralized Giants to find wins the rest of the way. Their division is strong and they have four games remaining against NFC East opponents. They also have plenty of travel, with three West Coast trips.
The 49ers’ opponents after the Giants aren't too shabby, either. They have combined for a .562 winning percentage, with only the Bears and Texans owning losing records. Wins should be hard to come by for San Francisco, unless the recently acquired Garoppolo provides a significant spark to a team that may be the most banged up in the NFL.
It’s Week 10, and this is where they stand. The 49ers and Giants are potentially playing for draft positioning. The Giants could be playing for their only chance at Darnold, Rosen, Allen, Jackson or whoever may end up being the No. 1 or No. 2 overall selection. Seven or 10 years down the line, they could look back at this Sunday's game in San Francisco and realize just how important this result turned out to be.