The Redskins have won two in a row, and a third straight victory Monday night would bring them to .500 and within a game of the Giants in the NFC East. After several seasons of struggle, the Redskins could actually be challenging the more recent division powers for a shot at the crown.
Not so fast, says one of the current rulers.
"I think they're still a couple of pieces away from actually being contenders and [there] being legitimate talks for playoffs and things like that," Giants receiver Victor Cruz said on a conference call Wednesday. "They're still a few pieces away, whether it be defensively or wherever, they're missing some pieces. But I think they definitely have to be in the conversation."
It's a conversation the Giants can interrupt quickly Monday night. A win at FedEx Field would propel the defending Super Bowl champs to a three-game lead over the Redskins with a pair of head-to-head victories and four games remaining. Even Mike Shanahan agreed that this is his team's last chance to stay in the division race.
"We put ourselves in a situation, starting off 3-6," Shanahan said. "We knew each game was a pivotal game, games you had to have. This game is no different."
Depending on what the Cowboys (5-6) do against the Eagles on Sunday, the Giants (7-4) could virtually lock up the division on Monday night. They can't clinch a playoff berth yet, but they'd be in a very strong position and would make the postseason barring a complete collapse.
"I see this as a game for us to create separation," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "Until we're locked in statistically, we're not going to count our eggs before they hatch.
"We're just going to play ball and make sure we take care of our own business. That's the main thing, not just get the win and get enough wins to be in the playoffs, but we also want to be rolling into the playoffs on a good note, making sure that we're playing our best ball, so when we do make it there, we're ready and prepared."
Cruz may be right that the Redskins are a piece or two away from challenging the Giants this season. But they certainly are establishing a strong foundation for contention in the coming years with Robert Griffin III at quarterback and Alfred Morris at running back, both rookies.
"I'm excited," Shanahan said. "I feel good about where we're at and the direction we're going in. Hopefully, we can keep it going."
The Redskins haven't been in the playoffs since the 2007 season. They haven't won a playoff game since the 2005 season. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said he believes that is close to changing.
"We definitely feel like we're a playoff-caliber team," Hall said. "We haven't done the things on the field to actually get to that step. Until we can actually get there, it's hard to call us that."
Cruz did have some compliments for the Redskins.
"I think they have a really good team, and it all starts with RG3," he said. "I think they're a team that can definitely do some good things and I would definitely see them as on the rise for sure."
But "on the rise" means the future. The Giants, Cruz said, have all the pieces they need right now.
"We're still the same team from last year, we have the same pieces in place, we have the same mindset and we have the same coaching," Cruz said. "I think we're in a prime position to make another push for the playoffs and another push for the Super Bowl."