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Giants and Redskins both trying to avoid steeper climb in NFC East on Thursday Night Football

Spencer Paysinger tackles Washington Redskins running back Alfred

Spencer Paysinger tackles Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris in the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 29, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mike Patterson knows the standings. He sees the Eagles sitting there atop the NFC East at 3-0. It doesn't bother him.

"It's too early in the season to try to determine who's going to go out on top," the Giants' veteran defensive tackle said.

That's true. The champion of the division often is not crowned until the last weekend of the regular season, as it has been the last three years. The top of the heap always seems to be in flux right up to the very final night.

The bottom, though? It's not too early to be concerned about that.

Although a team can't win the division in September, it certainly can be almost out of the running by the time the leaves start to fall, and that is what makes Thursday night's game between the Giants (1-2) and Redskins (1-2) so important.

It's not for first place, but a victory could put either team within a game of the top spot in the NFC East by the end of the weekend, but the loser will be 1-3 and could find itself three games behind the Eagles and two behind the Cowboys by Sunday night.

"This is a big one," Eli Manning said. "We didn't start the season the way we wanted to, but we've got a chance to get back on track and get even and hopefully get something going and get a little rhythm going . . . We've just got to make sure we do our part and get back into the mix."

Even when the Giants were 0-6 last season, they were able to stay alive for a while because no one else in the division was winning a lot of games.

That's not the case this year. And it makes the division games such as this one more significant.

"It definitely makes for an atmosphere that is very up-tempo, very high energy," Victor Cruz said. "It's something we have to take advantage of and understand that we have to finish this game with a 2-2 record."

Tom Coughlin spends a portion of each week presenting the NFC East standings to his players to make them aware of where they stand. He doesn't use it as a rallying cry or to scare the team into playing better. "I just present it as a fact," he said. "Here's the records and who's playing where, so on and so forth."

Cruz said the players pay attention to that part of the meeting, but rarely talk amongst themselves about the division. Patterson, too, said there isn't much time spent dwelling on scoreboard watching. At least not at this point in the year.

"We just need to take it one win at a time," Patterson said. "You get caught up in the division worried about who is playing where and who is losing to who, it takes away from what we need to do on the field."

The Redskins are also aware of those same standings. They have the same view from the bottom, too, craning their necks at the Eagles. Hoping, like the Giants, that they won't have to worry about falling further behind and being counted out of the race with the season only a quarter completed.

"I don't think you can judge a season on those four games," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "However, if you dig yourself in the hole, it is very tough to get out in the NFL. I wouldn't discount either one of the teams. The loser of this game, I wouldn't say they were out of it by any stretch."

But it will make the uphill climb a bit steeper.

New York Sports