Nothing quite matches the tension and excitement of the NFL playoffs. But divisional games in December with genuine postseason implications aren’t far behind. That’s exactly what the New York Giants have on tap this Sunday when they host the rival Washington Commanders. New York and Washington, respectively, hold the sixth and seventh seeds in the NFC playoff picture, with the 7-5 Commanders just a half-game back of the 7-4 Giants. The 6-5 Seattle Seahawks, currently just outside the playoff picture, are only a game back of Big Blue with claim to the tiebreaker (Seattle beat New York head-to-head in Week 8). If Seattle beats the 3-8 Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, a Giants loss will put them outside of the playoff picture for the first time this season.
Despite New York losing three of their last four games and being in danger of falling out of a playoff spot, it’s not all bad news in Giants-land. After a spate of injuries befelled the team over the last few weeks, Big Blue figures to get at least a few of their missing men back for Sunday’s game. Rookie right tackle Evan Neal and rookie tight end Daniel Bellinger both should return to action for the first time since Week 7. Their absences were especially felt in the run game. The Giants averaged just 112 rushing yards per game in the four weeks they missed. New York averaged 173 rushing yards per game in the seven weeks prior.
Outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari is the other player expected to return Sunday. The second-year pass rusher has only played in two games this season as he’s dealt with multiple calf injuries. If Ojulari can come back at something close to full health, he could provide a much needed complement to the burgeoning rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux.
If you’re a believer in momentum, then you may not like Big Blue’s chances on Sunday. As mentioned, the Giants have lost three of their last four games. The Commanders, on the other hand, have won six of their last seven games. Washington has found their identity as a run-first offense led by their running back duo of Antonio Gibson and rookie Brian Robinson Jr. Since Week 6, the Commanders are averaging 144 rushing yards per game, which if extrapolated over the whole season would put them securely in the top ten. That consistent rushing attack, combined with their defense averaging almost two turnovers per game, has been the Commanders formula for success over the last seven weeks. If the Giants want to get their season back on track Sunday, they’ll have to prioritize stopping the run defensively and playing a clean game offensively.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game, followed by a prediction for the final score.
Where and When
MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday at 1:00pm EST/10:00am PST
Injuries (Players on Injured Reserve Not Listed)
Washington: DE Chase Young (Questionable), CB Benjamin St-Juste (Questionable), TE Logan Thomas (Questionable), OG Trai Turner (Questionable), RB Antonio Gibson (Questionable), WR Dax Milne (Questionable), C Tyler Larsen (Questionable)
New York: DL Leonard Williams (Questionable), CB Darnay Holmes (Questionable), S Dane Belton (Questionable), CB Fabian Moreau (Questionable), LB Carter Coughlin (Questionable), CB Cordale Flott (Questionable), RB Gary Brightwell (Questionable), C Jon Feliciano (Questionable), TE Daniel Bellinger (Questionable), OG Joshua Ezeudu (Questionable), WR Richie James (Questionable), OG Shane Lemieux (Questionable), WR Darius Slayton (Questionable)
Most Concerning Matchup: WR Terry McLaurin vs. CB Fabian Moreau
While the Giants may be getting healthier, they’re still far from fully healty. This is especially true in the defensive secondary, where they’re still missing multiple starters. Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, still out with an MCL sprain he suffered returning a punt in Week 11, is most sorely missed. In Jackson’s absence, Moreau, who himself is questionable with an oblique injury, will likely assume top cornerback duties. The former Commander has been a pleasant story for Big Blue. He signed to New York’s practice squad just prior to the season, and then ably replaced the injured Aaron Robinson at number-two corner beginning in Week 2.
Despite Moreau playing above expectations this season, asking him to become a number-one corner is a little much. There’s a reason the 2017 third-round pick was available as a street free agent in early September. His matchup on Sunday should give extra cause for concern, as McLaurin is one the truly elite wideouts in football. The fourth-year pro is having another excellent season, on pace for over 1000 yards and 75 receptions. McLaurin does his best work against New York, as he’s averaged 95 yards per game against Big Blue. Moreau will have a tall task keeping McLaurin from going off against the Giants once again.
Most Promising Matchup: DT Dexter Lawrence vs. C Tyler Larsen
Thank goodness for Lawrence, who’s represented the Giants’ clearest personnel advantage basically all season. The 2019 first-round pick has undeniably taken the leap to the NFL’s upper class of defensive tackles. Just 11 games into this season, Lawrence is already sitting on career highs in sacks and quarterback hits. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale hasn’t shied away from leaning on the big man, either. Lawrence is playing 84% of the Giants’ defensive snaps, 15% higher than his workload last season. With Jackson on the mend, the Clemson product is inarguably New York’s most important and impactful defender.
It doesn’t hurt Lawrence that interior offensive line is one of the weaker position groups around the league. The big nose tackle is often a mismatch against opposing centers, and this week should be no exception. Larsen is playing in place of the injured Chase Roullier for Washington, and hasn’t exactly excelled in his new role. The 2014 undrafted free agent has earned just a 56.4 grade from Pro Football Focus this season, and lacks the length and athleticism to block Lawrence one-on-one. Lawrence should command double teams consistently, opening up opportunities for his fellow defensive linemen.
Keys to Victory
This is the week Big Blue’s offense must regain its identity. The Giants need to capitalize on the mini-bye they just had and their healthier offensive line to get Saquon Barkley going. Barkley is still their most talented offensive player and a major reason for their early-season success. His return to dominance is critical to New York rebounding from their recent skid. Quarterback Daniel Jones should also have opportunities to pull and run some read options against this aggressive Commanders defensive line.
Defensively, the Giants need to stop the run and force quarterback Taylor Heinicke to beat them. Heinicke can be streakily effective, but he’s also been know to throw the ball to the other team. Martindale needs to pressure him into a couple major mistakes.
Final Score Prediction: Giants 20 – Commanders 17
If the Giants want to salvage the promise of their 7-2 start, this is a game they have to take. Coming off nine days rest and healthier than they’ve been in a couple weeks, New York should be able to put their best foot forward and take this one at home.
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