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At least temporarily, Giants can earn their stripes by beating Bengals

Dexter Lawrence #97 of the New York Giants

Dexter Lawrence #97 of the New York Giants celebrates after a sack late during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

First place is the last place you’d think these three-win Giants would be.

But if they win on Sunday against the Bengals, well, guess who’ll be looking down at the rest of the NFC East?

"It’s crazy," center Nick Gates said this week. "This division has been a toss-up all year . . . We’ve come a long way since game one, so I think we can throw a couple more games together and hopefully make the playoffs."

A victory would give the Giants that first-place perch for at least a few hours. It would tie them with Washington at 4-7, and the Giants would be ahead by virtue of their sweep of that team.

For them to hold on to the position, the Eagles would have to lose to the Seahawks on Monday night. But whether it’s temporary or lasting, the Giants will take it. They haven’t had a share of first place since they started 2-0 in 2016, the last season they made the playoffs.

Before we start planning parades, though, the Giants do have to beat the Bengals (2-7-1). It’s nice for them that things have fallen into place, but they’re not going to win the division from the sideline. They have to get into the action themselves.

It can be easy to forget that because so much has happened to the Giants in the past two weeks since they last played an actual game. Some of it has been external, such as Cleveland’s win over Philadelphia last Sunday and Washington’s win over Dallas on Thursday, two results they could not have scripted better themselves. But a lot of the changes have been internal, too.

The Giants fired and replaced their offensive line coach, put six players on reserve/COVID-19 (with three of them since removed) and designated their second-round pick to return from injured reserve . . . all since the last time they were on the field.

Analysts say it’s been a long time since the Giants have played meaningful games like Sunday’s. Heck, it’s been a long time since they’ve played!

It isn’t lost on anyone that both of the last two games the Giants won were against teams that were coming off their own bye weeks and looked pretty flat because of it.

"The biggest thing for me when you get into the game week [after a bye] is not kind of walking into it," Joe Judge said. "You have to get back into working that routine. That’s very important to me. It’s probably close to 50-50 across the board in terms of teams [winning] coming out of bye weeks, and I think that’s more about how they prepare in that game week, and then execute for those 60 minutes on Sunday, more than the week off beforehand."

Judge, in other words, is not going to accept any excuses about rust or distractions heading into Sunday.

"Everyone has a bye week at some point," he said. "We don’t write anything off just saying that something is going to be an excuse. We have to use it to our advantage. It’s up to us to come to play with the right mentality."

Even more important is to get the right result. Especially in this game. The Giants have five opponents after the Bengals, and the next four in a row are legitimate playoff contenders — probably more legitimate than the Giants.

Those are issues for next week and beyond. For now, the Giants are focused on the Bengals.

"We’ve just got to take care of Cincinnati, do our jobs, hopefully the Seahawks can [beat the Eagles] and we’ll be in first place," Gates said.

Sounds simple.

Maybe it actually is.

New York Sports