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Giants' next three games will show us where this team is in its rebuild

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur talks to line

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur talks to line judge Tom Stephan in the first half of a game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday. Photo Credit: AP/Michael Ainsworth

The Cowboys may be in the Giants’ division, but they clearly were out of the Giants’ league.

They operated an efficient offense that took advantage of some soft spots in the Giants’ secondary and made smart, aggressive defensive plays that seemed to force the Giants into playing a style of football they did not want to employ.

In short, the Cowboys looked like one of the best teams in football.

And that’s because they might be.

The good news for the Giants is that not everyone else is. And while they still are recovering from the knocks they received in Dallas on Sunday, they at least can have the consolation that they won’t be facing such a quality opponent every week. In fact, their next three games should give them an opportunity to define themselves much more clearly than the Cowboys contest afforded.

Home against the Bills, at the Bucs, home against the Redskins. This is the stretch that will tell us who the Giants are and if they have, in fact, improved from last season. They were never going to be among the elite teams. This is the second year of what the Giants’ decision-makers believe is going to be a long-term rebuilding process. The stated goal might be to win the Super Bowl, but the realistic goal is simply an improvement over the languishing seasons that have piled up for this organization.

Teams kissed by destiny that emerge from nowhere to win a championship — and the Giants have had more than their share of those in the past few years, too — find a way to shock the world and topple rosters that are much better than their own. Teams that are trying to re-learn how to win must start by doing so in the winnable games.

That’s what the rest of this month is about for the Giants.

To be sure, each of the three upcoming opponents is looking back at the Giants and penciling in a W on their schedule. They saw how the Giants played against the Cowboys and may figure they can take advantage of the same flaws Dallas did. The difference being that they are not the Cowboys.

“Obviously, they played really well,” Eli Manning said of the Cowboys. “Their offense seemed to be in rhythm, and I thought Dak [Prescott] played really well. They do good stuff defensively . . . They had some good calls and played well in certain situations that kept us from scoring some points. I think they are obviously a good team and have played well the last couple of years and do some good things.”

They are, in other words, among the handful of teams that can honestly and rightfully project themselves as Super Bowl contenders. The Giants left AT&T Stadium on Sunday evening rocked back on their heels a bit. They made plenty of mistakes that allowed the Cowboys to cruise to victory. It was an eye-opening result. A “reality check” as safety Michael Thomas called it.

It probably checked the Cowboys’ reality more clearly than the Giants’, though.

The Giants' schedule does have a few more such games sprinkled throughout. After this three-game stretch, they play the Vikings and the Patriots in a five-day span. They play the Cowboys again on Nov. 4. They have two games against the Eagles in December. All daunting opponents, no doubt.

But don’t get blinded by the glare of the elite teams and miss the volume of bad-to-mediocre ones that populate most of the NFL. That’s the population bracket where the Giants are residing this season. The key to football is to take advantage of opportunities, whether it be on a single play like the Cowboys did so often on Sunday, or over the span of a season. That’s the recipe for upward mobility, that’s how teams rise in class and perception and respect over time.

That’s what the Giants need to do in the next three weeks.

Good luck. May the least-worst team win.

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