By Steve Silverman
» More Columns

If the Giants had set goals for themselves at the start of the season, it would not have included having a 5-5 record after Week 11.

Based on the way the NFC East was expected to play out, it would not have been out of line to think that either the Dallas Cowboys or Philadelphia Eagles would have been 8-2 or 7-3 at the start of Thanksgiving week.

The Giants would have been struggling to make a playoff case for themselves, working out the permutations of catching the Minnesota Vikings or Atlanta Falcons for one of the two wildcard spots, while holding out hope for a miracle and catching the division leader. They wouldn’t have actually believed it, but they would have mouthed those words.

Instead, the Giants are .500 and in first place by themselves in the division and they are thankful. They are a game ahead of the Eagles and the Washington Redskins, with the Cowboys even further behind at 3-7.

The Cowboys have a pretty good excuse since they were without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the majority of those 10 games. Dallas didn’t win once with Romo was out of the lineup due to a collarbone injury, and it’s quite likely that they have played themselves out of the playoff race.

The Eagles just stink. There’s no other way to put it after losing back-to-back home games against two of the NFL’s Florida juggernauts. They blew a double-digit lead against the Miami Dolphins in Week 10 and got blown out by the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 11. We know all we need to about Chip Kelly’s team. They will play out the string and it seems fairly obvious that Kelly will be back in college football next year.

The Giants, of course, have shown a propensity to lose in the final moments. That includes their last game, when Stephen Gostkowski hit a 54-yard field goal in the closing seconds to give the New England Patriots a 27-26 victory.

As much as that defeat hurt, it was the Giants’ most encouraging game of the season. The Patriots have been the best team in football and Big Blue went toe-to-toe with them and was probably the better team. If that game had been a boxing match, the Giants would have been jobbed out of the decision by the judges.

Tom Coughlin’s team is at a critical juncture of the season, as it has a chance to grow its lead in the division and make a run at a playoff spot. The passing game is at a championship level with Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle, and it’s too bad that Victor Cruz won’t be able to join the party.

The defense and the running game are not at that level, and that’s the rub. The defense ranks 31st in yards allowed, and the performance against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8 will remain a blight on the team’s soul until Steve Spagnuolo finds a way to rub it out. While they probably won’t play another game as bad as that one, the Giants are almost certainly going to have more problems.

This week’s game at FedEx Field will be anything but easy. All four of Washington’s victories have come at home, including its 47-14 destruction of New Orleans, the same team that rolled up 52 points against Spagnuolo’s defense.

It’s time for these Giants to play a 60-minute game and for the defense to show it can make a big stop at a key moment. The Redskins have been getting it done at home with will and execution, and not speed and skill.

The Giants have plenty of the latter two characteristics. If they can show the former, they will take home a victory and put themselves in a good position to secure a division title.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy