Weird but true: Giants aren't good, but they are in first place

Quinton Dunbar, Odell Beckham Jr., earn game balls (1:59)

The Redskins' secondary turned to a former receiver Sunday and he provided one of the bigger plays of the game; meanwhile, Beckham did what he does every week: make unbelievable catches. (1:59)

LANDOVER, Md. -- Sunday's was not a fire-everybody loss or a sky-is-falling loss or even a what-the-heck-just-happened loss for the New York Giants. It was a simply a loss, on the road, to a Washington team that's about as good/bad as they are and that is now tied with them for first place in the division at 5-6. No team in the NFC East is good, and the Giants are a part of that, so when they lose a game, sometimes it's just because they weren't good enough to win. This was the case Sunday. Washington played better and won by six points, 20-14. No extra meaning-of-life stuff to seek or see here.

This is life in the mediocre middle of an NFL that currently counts 13 teams within a game of .500. The Giants are still a rebuilding team with lots more work to do on their roster in the offseason. They've played better than expected this year, which is great for positive reinforcement and shows steps in the right direction. If there were a team like the Arizona Cardinals or New England Patriots or Cincinnati Bengals or even the 2014 Dallas Cowboys in this division, Sunday's game would have had no relevance beyond its impact on individual player evaluations for the future.

Except that there isn't, and that's what adds a bizarre, quirky, fun element of import to what's going on with the Giants. Even after this loss, they're still tied for first place. As shaky as it might be, the NFC East by rule will field a playoff team this year. And at this point, with five games to go, the Giants have as good a chance to be that team as any.

"Our goal is still attainable, and that's to win the [division]," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "I don't know if we actually control our destiny or not anymore, but I know we have a chance if we play well."

Amukamara's uncertain optimism articulates this perfectly. The best way to sum up the Giants' current situation is with a bemused shrug. Coach Tom Coughlin, assessing his team's first-half performance Sunday, said the team "slept-walked," which isn't a word. But maybe inventing words to explain what's going on with this weird season is the way to go. This Giants team, as currently constituted, has no business in the playoffs and just might get there anyway. That's ... kind of cool? I think?

"I commend our guys for battling and hanging in there and staying with it," Coughlin said. "I give credit to our offensive linemen, who were in a difficult position today with some guys missing. Our record is 5-6. Washington's record is 5-6. We came in here knowing full well what the circumstances were."

And they didn't really do much to change them. A win would have. A win would have put the Giants two games clear of the rest of the division with five games to go, given them a big-time tiebreaker over Washington and had everybody fired up about playoffs and controlling destinies and all of that.

But the Giants don't make it easy on themselves, because it's very difficult for them to win games. There's no chance they're going to win a game in which they're minus-3 in turnover differential, as they were Sunday. Turnover differential is the only reason their record is as good as it is. They've had positive turnover differentials in four of their six losses, for goodness' sake. Play them straight up, with no turnovers either way, and your chances to beat the Giants are strong-to-quite-strong.

"They did a great job of creating turnovers and creating havoc," Odell Beckham Jr. said. "We have come out firing on all cylinders and beaten teams. This is the NFL."

Which means it all resets next week, and if the Giants beat the Jets to get back to .500 and Washington loses to Dallas, it all looks sunny again. When the dust settles five weeks from now, the Giants might find themselves in the playoffs, gifted an extra week of practice and a game to help with the development their young players still so badly need. Or they might find themselves out of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, looking ahead to another offseason of gradual fixing. Neither outcome would or should be a surprise, because this is a below-average team in a terrible division.

But they definitely still have a chance, and regardless of the outcome the ride will be fun. As a sports fan, that's really all you can ever ask.