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Giants suddenly can take 2-game lead in NFC East

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Giants suddenly can take 2-game lead in NFC East

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Coming off a bye week and despite a two-game losing streak, the New York Giants have a chance to open a two-game lead in the NFC East with a win over the streaking Green Bay Packers.

Thank you, Robert Griffin III.

Washington's phenomenal rookie quarterback opened the door for the defending Super Bowl champions to take command in the division by leading the Redskins to a 38-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving.

The outcome left both Washington and Dallas with 5-6 records, and gave the Giants (6-4) the chance to make things a little easier if they can beat the Packers (7-3) and snap their five-game winning streak.

That's a big if.

The Giants have a history in recent years of not taking the easiest path, and a loss on Sunday would turn the division into a three-team race with the young Redskins seemingly having the momentum with New York heading down to FedEx Field a week from Monday.

``Huge game, a lot at stake,'' veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora said Friday of the Packers game. ``I'm anxious to see how we come out and play because I feel like we need to respond to the two games we lost, and we also need to still prove we are world champions and play like it at some point. Hopefully, this will be the game.''

Tom Coughlin's team limped into the bye week, blowing a fourth-quarter lead in a 24-20 loss to Pittsburgh at the start of the month and then finished their pre-bye schedule with a dismal performance in a 31-13 setback at Cincinnati.

Add in a late win over the Redskins and a skin-of-the-finger win over Dallas, and New York just as easily could have a four-game losing streak.

The positive for the Giants is that they are rested and they have refocused for a tough six-game stretch run that also includes games with New Orleans, Atlanta, Baltimore and Philadelphia. They are also healthier.

Veteran safety Kenny Phillips (knee) seemingly is ready to play for the first time since the end of September and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot-knee) and halfback Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) are feeling better after a week off.

Most of the Giants watched the Cowboys lose Thursday after their Thanksgiving dinner, so they understood what was in front of them.

``Washington is playing pretty well right now,'' Phillips said. ``I think the biggest thing for us is to get this win and go back up two games. We definitely don't want it to be a close race.''

Linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka was more concerned with the Giants. He wants to see some good team defense, and not the mental errors and blown assignments that have led to way too many big plays. He was encouraged how the team prepared for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who the Giants beat 37-20 in the NFL semifinal in January.

``In terms of where we are, we still can accomplish all of our goals,'' Kiwanuka said. ``So for us, yeah, we'll pay attention to all that, but it's about us getting the wins we need and making sure that stuff (results) doesn't come into play.''

The Giants, however, have shown a flare for the dramatic.

For those who have forgotten, just remember last year. The Giants opened 6-2, like this year, lost four straight and then split with the Cowboys and Redskins to enter the next-to-last week of the season with a 7-7 record.

The rest is memorable. New York routed the Jets with Victor Cruz scoring on a 99-yard touchdown pass play, and won the division on the final week of the regular season with an impressive win over Dallas. The Giants then steamrolled through the playoffs to win their second title since 2007.

It certainly wasn't the easy road.

``We can't continue to shoot ourselves in the foot,'' defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said. ``We have to take advantage of our opportunity. Things like this don't come along all the time. Hopefully we can get this thing going.''

Safety Antrel Rolle said the Giants controlled their own destiny going into this week and that's not going to change, at least for now.

``We're just trying to win out, taking it one game at a time,'' he said. ``Right now we are just focused on Green Bay and what they present. We're looking forward to Sunday.''

Rolle couldn't help but smile when reminded that this team never takes the easy way.

``That's the way we have done it while I've been here,'' Rolle said. ``I'm not saying we're too fond of that way, but sometimes you have to pick up the slack when needed and push forward and that's what we have done as an organization. Right now it's six games to go and that's what we are looking forward, too.''

Coughlin said Dallas' loss doesn't change anything.

``Take care of your own business, that's what I learned a long, long time ago,'' he said. ``Take care of your own business.''

If the Giants do, they will be a lot closer to getting back to the playoffs.

NOTES: WR Domenik Hixon (ankle) and LB Jacquian Williams (knee) were listed as out for Sunday's game. Phillips and LB Keith Rivers (calf-knee) are questionable. DT Linval Joseph (knee) was listed as probable despite being limited at practice on Friday.

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Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

The NFL started taking into account a new factor when putting together its schedule this year. The concept is called rest disparity. It stems from a complaint made by the Giants last year. And, of course, when the Giants have a cold, the NFL sneezes and immediately does whatever it takes to cure the cold. 

Here is how Peter King laid it out this morning on the MMQB:

Last year, I heard the Giants were not pleased with their schedule because they felt they were too often playing teams more rested than they were. In consecutive October weeks, they played teams coming off byes, for instance. The NFL calculated a figure for every team based on the number of combined days of rest for their foes or for the team, calculating, for instance, in those two weeks, the Giants were a minus-14 (minus-seven for each of the foes, Seattle and Denver, coming off byes). In all, by my math, the Giants were a league-worst minus-22 in “rest disparity.”

So the schedule makers worked to minimize the rest disparity this year. According to King, the worst rest disparity in the league this year is minus-11. The Giants are minus-eight. 

The question that Redskins fans will have immediately here is if the Giants’ rest disparity was reduced at the expense of the team in burgundy and gold. The answer that will surprise many is no. 

The Redskins rest disparity in 2018 will be either minus-one or zero. The variance is due to the possibility that their Week 16 game in Tennessee will be flexed to a Saturday game (see details here). If the game stays on Sunday, they will be at minus-one in rest disparity. If it gets moved, they will have had exactly as much rest over the course of the season as did their opponents, in aggregate. 

If you're interested in the nitty-gritty, here is how it breaks down. In eight or nine of their games, they will have had the same amount of rest as their opponents. They play one game coming off of their bye, a Monday night game in New Orleans. The Saints play the previous Sunday, giving Washington a plus-seven in days of rest. That is canceled out when they play the Falcons in Week 9 after Atlanta’s bye. 

Due to their Thanksgiving game, they get three extra days off going into their Week 13 Monday night game in Philadelphia. Two weeks later the Jaguars will have those three extra days of rest when they host the Redskins, having played on Thursday in Week 14.

They lose a day relative to their opponents coming off of those Monday night games against the Saints and Eagles. The Redskins get an extra day prior to visiting the Giants in Week 8 as New York has a Monday night game in Week 7. 

So far, that comes to minus-one in rest disparity. That will remain in place if they play the Titans on Sunday, December 23. If the game is flexed to Saturday, they will gain a day of rest on the Eagles in Week 17, zeroing out the rest disparity for the season. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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