Improbably, a win puts Giants in NFC East mix

They’re winless five weeks into the season and saddled with the worst defense in the National Football League, so common sense should tell the New York Giants that their season is over.

Except the Giants are in the NFC East, a division where no one’s playing even .500 football. Despite their pathetic ways, the Giants find themselves just two games out of first place, which makes Thursday night’s game versus the Chicago Bears that much more important.

Why? Because it should tell us more than we already know about the Giants, whether we want to know more or not.

Let Eli Manning drone on about how he does not “think I’m playing bad at all.” Let ’em tell the world that Eli just needs to “cut down on the mistakes” and that the Giants need to “put him in better positions.”

All Eli & Co. are doing is highlighting the fact accountability is a challenging issue in the land of Big Blue these days. That’s why Thursday night’s game is so big.

“I know what situation we’re in and I’m not pleased with it,” Manning told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m not happy with our performances and so I know we’ve got to fix them. We’ve got to play better.”

It starts with Manning.

Just five games in and the same guy who led the league in interceptions in both 2007 (20) and 2010 (25) is presently tops in the NFL with 12. Week by week he appears more demoralized, having won just three of his past 13 starts. Game by game, everyone on the Giants, outside of Victor Cruz, provides a reason for him to feel that way.

The Giants are ranked dead last defensively and 27th versus the run. They have no running game worth speaking of, no running backs worth mentioning. And their vaunted front seven, the signature of their Super Bowl runs, is so bad that they’re currently ranked next-to-last behind Pittsburgh in sacks (5 to 4), and have yielded no fewer than 31 points in any of their five games.

This is with Justin TuckJason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara in the lineup, among others.

Last checked, Tom Coughlin was still the coach, too.

“We’re bad right now and we’ve got to turn things around,” Rolle deadpanned.

He never mentioned how, of course.

It could start Thursday night versus a Bears squad with Jay Cutler coming off two straight losses. Even though Chicago has Matt Forte averaging more than 4 yards per carry, with Alshon Jeffery emerging as the team’s leading receiver in yards, there’s still the issue of Brandon Marshall‘s emotional state of mind, along with Cutler’s composure.

Normally, this might qualify as reason to suggest the Giants could steal this game. Right up until one realizes that David Wilson is out with a neck injury, Andre Brown is still out and the Giants are left to rely upon Brandon Jacobs, whom they exiled to San Francisco last season because they thought he was done, along with Da’Rel Scott.

Then again, there’s still the NFC East to consider, right?

“Yeah, because it’s wide open and obviously we’re two games back right now,” Manning said. “Obviously we’ve got to play better football and do those things, but we still feel that we can get hot.”

It starts with winning a game.

No one’s assuming the Giants will go 0-16, but they are making it difficult to decipher when victory No. 1 will occur. Perhaps, if not Thursday night, it’ll occur versus Minnesota next Monday night. Or at Philadelphia at the end of the month. Or versus Oakland after that.

Essentially, the next four games for the Giants should be winnable games, which would explain why Manning believes they still have a chance in the NFC East, why Coughlin keeps imploring the team to “get back to work” and why GM Jerry Reese — who’s on the hook right now for how awful these Giants have looked talent-wise — was so confident in his team before this season began.

These are the Giants, after all. Two-time Super Bowl champions over the past six seasons, improbable runs both times. They live by that anything-can-happen mantra, so long as they get into the playoffs. And looking at their division, it’s clear anything can happen.

If the Giants actually start winning some games. It’s a huge question right now, with no answers in sight.

It’s sad. It’s awful. It’s totally unexpected, but that’s usually when they shine brightest.

Here’s hoping they surprise us once again.

Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for, host of a weekday show for ESPN New York 98.7 and a regular on “SportsCenter” and “First Take.”

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