By Curt Macysyn

No one is complaining that the New York Giants are in first place, although team deficiencies surrounding how to close out games must be addressed. The Giants begin the second part of their 2015 season, with a visit to the nation’s capital and a potentially season-defining clash with the Washington Redskins. A win by the Giants could effectively eliminate the Redskins from contention for the division title due to being swept in the season series by Big Blue.

The Giants also host the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles and then travel to Miami and Minnesota in December. Right now, there are no gimmees on Big Blue’s schedule as every team they play is currently in the playoff hunt. In particular, the Carolina Panthers have been strong throughout the season and the Minnesota Vikings have surprised most everyone with their strong play thus far.

New York cannot take one step forward and two steps back in the latter portion of its schedule, so some players will have to step up their games, while other will need to be just as good as Fall turns to Winter.

Rising: Eli Manning, Quarterback

Even after Eli Manning effectively went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last weekend, the detractors still existed. Media continued to gush how Brady was able to seamlessly move on from the Julian Edelman injury and win the game, but that is exactly what Manning did when he had to move on from Victor Cruz last season. NFL talking heads wax poetic about franchise quarterbacks like Andy Dalton (Cincinnati), yet Manning’s statistic line is slightly better than Dalton’s at this point. Another favorite of the analysts, Matt Ryan of Atlanta, has a lower quarterback rating than Manning (92.4 vs. 96.9), so statistically everyone needs to understand that Manning is playing like a top-five quarterback this season.

Rising: Odell Beckham, Jr. Wide Receiver

With 63 catches at the break and 863 receiving yards, Beckham has not seen a dropoff from his record-setting rookie season. Overall, he clearly is better at this point than his draft compatriots, Mike Evans (Tampa Bay) and Sammy Watkins (Buffalo), and his eight touchdown catches lead the team. OBJ continues to be a productive player despite the fact that team game plan for him exclusively, and the rest of the Giants receiving corps is inconsistent at best. Thankfully, Beckham’s hamstring issue was short lived, so a strong final six games could be the impetus for a Giants’ playoff visit this year.

Rising: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cornerback

On a defense that has been opportunistic all season, DRC has been the most opportunistic defender. Rodgers-Cromartie came to New York via much fanfare and has proven that he was worth the five-year, $35 million contract signed in 2014. This season, DRC has three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns to his credit. His hard tackle also caused a Trumaine McBride pick six against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8 of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, DRC remains a top-ten NFL cornerback with an (+8.0) through ten weeks of the season, ahead of compatriots like Sam Shields, Aqib Talib and Patrick Peterson.

Honorable Mentions: Josh Brown, Kicker; Jasper Brinkley, Linebacker; Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive End

Falling: Andre Williams, Running Back

Williams is a classic example of why the Giants’ personnel department needs to eat some humble pie. The second-year back from Boston College was a statistical beast in college, but dropped to the 4th round of the 2014 NFL draft. There was a reason for that, and the other NFL teams scouting departments seem to have gotten it right.

“Big bodied and will struggle to make himself skinny through holes, slowing down at first contact and appearing hesitant at times at the LOS…lacks dynamic quickness to start/stop and get himself out of trouble on athleticism alone,” is what CBS Sports wrote about Williams in 2014. This season, Williams has been largely ineffective with 2.8 yards per carry average and only one touchdown, and removing his longest run of the season (35 yards), Williams’ average drops to 2.3 yards per carry. Orleans Darkwa has already passed him on the depth chart.

Falling: Landon Collins, Safety

No one is questioning Collins ability to eventually be an effective NFL player; but at this point, he is closer to an NFL rookie than he is to the all around SEC star that surrounded his draft status. NFL growing pains are expected, but keep in mind that the Giants moved up at a significant price to nab Collins as the first pick in the second round of the 2015 draft. The team then anointed him a starter almost as soon as he put a Giants’ uniform on. On the other hand, his supporters cannot have it both ways. Collins cannot be considered a star performer and a work in progress at the same time. His drop of a sure Tom Brady interception last week was disappointing, and he clearly needs to step up his game (82nd of 84 safeties via Pro Football Focus) over the final six games.

Falling: Marshall Newhouse, Offensive Tackle

Marshall Newhouse was signed to give the Giants some depth along the offensive line this off season; but with Will Beatty’s injury woes, Newhouse was suddenly thrust into a starting position. The results have not been very good, as Newhouse is currently ranked 71st out of 75 offensive tackles in the league with a (-22.6) grade by Pro Football Focus. Newhouse has been a consistent poor grade throughout the year, and he really struggled (-5.4) in the week three showdown with the Redskins. Moving forward, there is no reason, barring injury, that the configuration of the offensive line will change, so offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will have to figure out a way to mitigate his biggest liability.

Dishonorable Mentions: Larry Donnell, Tight End; Brandon Meriweather, Safety; Damontre Moore, Defensive End

Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.