The winning is the reward for the hard work. That is the way Eli Manning views the give-and-take of the NFL and, he says, when you win “it’s definitely a little bit easier to smile on Mondays.’’

No one should confuse smiles with relief. No one around the Giants is relieved. Sure, they are just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NFC East behind the Cowboys and Eagles, both 5-5, but the 3-6 record is a numerical reminder and historical proof that the three-game winning streak only has polished away a thin layer of this season’s tarnish.

“We still kind of have that idea in our head that we’re still fighting. … We’re still fighting to get back on track and get back to where we need to be,’’ Manning said. “We can’t let any more slip away.’’

There’s no way the Giants can allow Sunday’s game to slip away, not to the diminished Packers, who are 5-4 after two straight losses and arrive at MetLife Stadium without injured star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Instead, the Packers prop up little-known Scott Tolzien for his first NFL start and hope he can slow down a surging Giants defense.

This game originally was scheduled for national television but was flexed out of prime time because Broncos-Chiefs is a more attractive matchup — and the Giants have been so unattractive. Sure, the Giants are now giving off positive vibes, but they aren’t fooled by what they are and how they got here.
“We’re definitely a 3-6 team,’’ Antrel Rolle said. “We can’t mistake that under any means, but our level of confidence is definitely rising each and every week.’’

A look inside the game:

Best Battle

Packers RT Marshall Newhouse vs. Giants DE Justin Tuck

The usual starter at right tackle, Don Barclay, didn’t practice all week with a knee injury and probably will need to use a brace if he plays. It looks as if Newhouse is going to have to fill in on the line. Advantage, Tuck, who calls himself “Mr. Almost’’ because of all the big plays he feels he’s almost made. Newhouse started at left tackle the past two seasons. He allowed two fourth-quarter sacks two weeks ago in a loss to the Bears.

System Crash

Packers receiver Jordy Nelson admitted what’s happened the past two weeks is “a little bit of a shock to the system.’’ Losing Rodgers to a fractured left collarbone early in what became a loss to the Bears was disturbing enough, then last week, in a loss to the Eagles, the Packers lost Rodgers’ replacement, Seneca Wallace, to a groin injury on the first series.

“It makes it a little hectic,’’ Nelson said.

No kidding. Rodgers’ absence completely changes the complexion of any game. Scott Tolzien, the No. 3 quarterback, makes his first start of any kind since he led the charge for Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl. Rushed in as an emergency replacement, Tolzien wasn’t terrible in his NFL debut, completing 24 of 39 passes for 280 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

“He’s a very confident kid,’’ Nelson said. “He’s a smart kid. I expect him to do well, probably a little bit better now that he’s had a week of practice with us and knowing that he’s going to be the starter that we’ll be game planning for his skills.’’

The Grinder

The Packers with Rodgers always were considered a pass-first- and pass-second offense, at times not even trying to establish anything on the ground. That is why it is astounding to see the Packers since Week 3 sitting at No. 4 in the NFL in rushing, averaging 155.1 yards per game. It’s a shift that took place before Rodgers got hurt, and it has been fueled by rookie Eddie Lacy, the former Alabama pounder who has an NFL-high 618 rushing yards over the past six games, including a 150-yard game in a loss to the Bears.