By Steve Silverman

These are very dangerous times for the New York Giants and their fans.

After looking as bad as any of the 32 teams in Roger Goodell’s fiefdom during the first half of the season, the Giants have figured it out and are playing winning football. They took apart the Redskins Sunday in a manner that suggests a powerhouse of a team.

Just a few weeks ago, Washington was a first-place team with eyes on winning the NFC East and performing well in the playoffs. But, when they lost quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to season-ending injuries and were forced to turn to Mark Sanchez, the game of football became a brutal struggle.

It was not a surprise that the Giants beat the Redskins Sunday, but the way they did it indicates the team has started to make progress.

After watching the Bears shut down the Los Angeles Rams Sunday night, it makes the Giants’ Week 13 victory over Chicago look that much more impressive.

So, this team has made some progress in the last four games, and a win this Sunday at home against Tennessee is a decent possibility.

However, here’s what makes this situation so dangerous. This is not that unusual. There are many teams in the NFL that have played themselves out of contention in the first half or longer of a season and go on to play respectably as the season reaches its climactic weeks.

It creates an impression that the team that follows this pattern is really a good team, and they were done in by some early-season bad breaks.

Fans get fooled and so does management. When that happens, it is the worst place to be because the team starts to believe that the status quo is good enough for the following season and the year repeats.

The only time that the end-of-season charge works is when there are a group of rookies or second-year players that legitimately start to improve as they learn what the NFL is all about. The Giants have one player that fits that scenario in Saquon Barkley. He continues to improve each week, with Sunday’s 170-yard effort in just three quarters being the latest in a series of impressive games.

The same can’t be said for Eli Manning. Many fans are devoted to Eli because he led the Giants to two Super Bowl victories, and both came against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Those are wonderful, Hall of Fame type of achievements, but they are in the past, and not the recent past.

The Giants can’t allow themselves to be fooled into thinking that Manning is good enough to get them to the playoffs in the future and has the ability to lead them on a run once they get there. He may be beloved for his past accomplishments but he can’t do that any longer.

The more the Giants win in the final weeks of the season, the more dangerous it will be. They don’t have an easy closing stretch as they have to go to red-hot Indianapolis after hosting the Titans and they close at home against the Cowboys. No team is hotter than Dallas, having won five straight games and taking over the NFC East lead.

But if the Giants won two of the remaining three games and finished at 7-9, it would create an impression that the team is good enough to win as it is presently constituted and needs just a couple of adjustments.

That would be wrong, and fans should not believe any of that fool’s gold, no matter what else they read or hear on the radio. In addition to Eli’s inability to get away from any decent pass rush, the defense does not have enough firepower. They need playmaking stars, particularly players who can rush the quarterback and create havoc.

They don’t have it, and that’s what Dave Gettleman needs to understand.

A great running back can key a decent surge by a team, but a team that wants to win a division, playoff games and a Super Bowl must have a great quarterback and a defense that can punish opponents. The Giants have neither at this point.

The key from this point forward is not to get fooled. Fans can appreciate a team that builds a 40-0 lead on the road, but it does not mean that real progress has been made.

That’s the easy way out and it has been taken too many times.

Don’t get fooled again.