By Ernie Palladino
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Tom Coughlin wishes he could escape the inevitable questions, but he realizes that’s impossible until his Giants start winning again.

They’ll have that chance Sunday night, in front of the nation, against the Packers. Should Dallas win its Thanksgiving Day matchup against Washington today and the Giants lose their third straight Sunday, that nice little division lead they built the first half of the season will have gone the way of the buffalo — extinct, evaporated. And the whispers surrounding the possibilities of a second-half swoon will once again turn into roars.

And that means the head coach will be deflecting questions once again, as he is forced to every season, it seems.

“The fact that we’re coming off the bye clinging to a very small lead in our division and have to win football games, it’s a six-game schedule for us now,” Coughlin said. “One game at a time for six weeks, everything we’ve got, full speed ahead, prove the quality of our team.

“I’m not saying it isn’t the way it should be, but I’m really tired about answering all the questions about what’s wrong. I’d rather we play a game, and play it well, and answer the questions that way.”

All will settle down if they beat Green Bay. Problem is, they’re facing one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers, and a tough defense. If Eli Manning can’t up his game after a week’s rest, the Giants will have all sorts of pressure thrust upon their shoulders. And if the cornerback tandem of Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster can’t contain folks like the league’s newest do-it-all star Randall Cobb and a quarterback who has thrown for 24 touchdowns against just four interceptions in their current 6-1 string, the Packers could have an easy road to their third straight regular season win in this series.

It wouldn’t be surprising if that happened. The Giants are 17-21-1 lifetime on Sunday nights. They’ve never played the Packers with Faith Hill — or anybody else for that matter — singing the prime-time intro song. And we really don’t have to talk about their post-bye record. OK, we will. It’s 8-15.

So the deep history is not favorable. Yet, the recent history offers hope. They’ve won the last four under Coughlin.

Perhaps the way to get this thing done is to forget about last year’s 38-35, Week 13 loss here, when Rodgers Discount Double-Checked his team down the field in the closing minutes to position it for Mason Crosby’s 31-yard field goal as time expired.

Instead, they may want to remember how they bottled up Rodgers at Lambeau Field in the postseason. That divisional playoff saw the defense sack Rodgers four times, recover three fumbles, and get a game-clinching interception from Deon Grant.

The offense exploded for 17 fourth-quarter points that game — typical Manning — and you know the rest.

It was a big moment for a team that has, under Coughlin, flourished in big moments.

The spotlight won’t get much larger than that on Sunday. Two division leaders, the visitor streaking, the host shrinking.

A loss won’t be the end of the Giants by any means. But a win could maintain that thread-thin span of breathing space that would make preparations for next week in Washington so much more pleasant.

“We’ve played crappy football the last couple of weeks,” said Justin Tuck. “We’d like to swing it back to our favor. This is a great opportunity.”

Who better to do it against than an NFC North leader that has won five straight and is 6-1 over the last seven?

“This is a huge game,” Coughlin said. “It’s a huge game for them. It’s a huge game for us. Why wouldn‘t we be excited about playing?

“Look at the time of year. After Thanksgiving, you better be playing your best football or on your way toward playing your best football if you‘re going to be representative.”

He’s right. It’s time.

Your prediction for Giants-Packers? Let us know in the comments below!

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