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Giants a real contender? Prove it

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Giants will be team to beat in NFC East (1:23)

Josina Anderson joins His & Hers and picks the New York Giants as the NFC East champions based on their explosive offense. (1:23)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The idea that the New York Giants might be able to contend in a wobbly NFC East is based entirely on the deficiencies of other teams. Dallas has lost Tony Romo and Dez Bryant to major injuries. Philadelphia looks all wrong. Washington remains the Giants' one reliable punching bag. The Giants' out-of-division schedule doesn't scare you too much, what with all that San Francisco and Tampa Bay and New Orleans in there.

And that's fine. None of those teams' problems are overblown. But what that narrative overlooks is the caliber of the Giants' own roster, and the legitimate question of whether they are a good enough team to take advantage of other teams' flaws.

Since the start of the 2013 season, the Giants are 5-0 against Washington and 9-21 against the rest of the league. You can make the strong case that they haven't beaten a quality team since 2012, as their 2013 victories against the Eagles and Packers came in games quarterbacked by Matt Barkley and Scott Tolzien. Sure, you can tell me the Giants' October/November schedule looks easy, but the counter-argument is that the Giants have become the sort of team that makes other teams' schedules look easy.

This isn't about bashing. This is about stepping back and taking a sober look at where the Giants are at this point in their franchise history. Years of unproductive drafts have left the roster paper-thin and required GM Jerry Reese to try to fix mistakes with big free-agent spends. The defense can't consistently pressure quarterbacks or cover receivers -- a combination of flaws that should be impossible but which speaks to the quality of the personnel at all three levels. It's not that there aren't good players on this defense; it's that there aren't enough of them.

On offense, they have one brilliant young wide receiver and a quarterback who never gets hurt and has proven he can win Super Bowls. Those are two truly outstanding assets, but things thin out around them quickly. The non-Odell Beckham Jr. receivers and tight ends are question marks, the running backs are so-so and the offensive line is young and banged-up.

On Friday, the day after his first victory of the season (against ol' reliable Washington, of course), coach Tom Coughlin used the term "still under construction" to describe his team.

"We're not there, but we're trying like heck," Coughlin explained Monday. "I think our attitude and our effort is good. We still have our situational issues, but we're grinding away, and hopefully we're going to improve. We are not where we want to be. We know we can be better than this, and we're trying like heck to get there."

Coughlin sounds to me like a realist, right? His analysis helps convince me mine is justified. It's as if some part of him -- one he can't truly reveal because his job is to keep his players' spirits up -- would prefer that those of us charged with sober, neutral analysis of his team ditch the "Well, they were 0-2 in 2007!" talk and write instead about being handed a roster so thin that he has to play Nikita Whitlock at defensive tackle.

But this, of course, is Coughlin's great coaching strength -- assessing the puzzle pieces and working to find a solution. Coughlin's teams always win at least as many games as they should, and I don't expect this season's team to be an exception. The work he did last week to get them prepared to play Washington on a short week minus five starters after two crushing losses should not be overlooked. You can rag on him all you want for clock management and for challenging plays he's not allowed to challenge, but you have to coach Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, too, and Coughlin's work last week was a clinic in that.

"He kept coaching us," Prince Amukamara said Thursday night. "He's never given up on us. He's the leader of our team, and he knows what we need."

What the Giants need this week is to prove they can do what Coughlin keeps telling them they can do -- play better. Winning this road game in Buffalo would prove something the Giants of the past couple of years have not been able to prove -- that they can indeed beat a quality opponent. Holding fourth-quarter leads against Dallas and Atlanta this month didn't prove that. It might have made you believe it, but it didn't prove it. The only thing that will prove it is winning, and this Bills team -- even without LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins -- is the kind of opponent the Giants need to prove they can handle if we're to consider them a legitimate contender. Even in a watered-down division.

If they can win Sunday, it's fair to start changing the narrative about the Giants' 2015 chances and considering them a contender. If they don't, they have given us no reason to look at them any differently than we have for the past two years.