The time for hyperbole has ended - this is an actual must-win game for the Redskins against the Giants.
If they win, they're very likely in the playoffs.
If they lose, questions will mount for players and coaches. The game is slotted for a 4:25 p.m. start at FedEx Field, but all the action starts on CSN at 3 p.m. with Redskins Kickoff.
For New Year's Day, the weather looks quite mild, as temperatures will be hovering above freezing and little precipitation is expected. Here are five storylines to watch:
- Start fast - Plenty seemed different last week in the blowout win over the Bears, but the tone was set early. The Redskins scored first in that game for the first time in more than a month, and got out to an early 14-0 lead. If Jay Gruden's team can get out to another early lead against the Giants, the New York players might completely lose interest in a game that holds no value for them.
- Expect the best - Let's be honest here: The Giants are very likely to rest some of their best players. The risk of injury to a star like Odell Beckham or Eli Manning far outweighs the reward of winning what is a meaningless game for New York. As much as Ben McAdoo said his starters will play, they're probably not playing the whole game. They might not even play the whole first half, but for the Redskins, that's irrelevant. Washington needs to be laser focused, sharp in coverages and calls, and not leave anything to chance in a game that will determine their season.
- Strength against Strength - Offense sets the tone for the Skins, while the Giants' defense has been their best unit all season. Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay has repeatedly said that his team is at its best when the offense is balanced and the team runs the ball well. Against the Bears, McVay's unit rushed for more than 200 yards and piled up nearly 500 total yards. Facing the Giants, it will be much harder to run the ball, as New York ranks No. 7 in the NFL in rush defense. Still, McVay needs to stay committed on the ground. The best way to do that? Jay Gruden explained, "If you get down, then obviously it’s hard to be balanced. It’s important for us to be good in the down-and-distance, number one. Number two, convert third downs so we can maintain some drives to stay balanced. And obviously stay close."
- Turning it around - Washington's defense has struggled all season, that's no secret. Joe Barry's squad ranks near the bottom of the NFL in a number of defensive categories, including 29th in yards allowed per game. Luckily for Skins fans, the Giants also struggle offensively, 25th in the league in scoring and almost at the bottom in terms of time of possession. In spots, the Redskins have had success generating turnovers, like the five interceptions last week in the blowout over Chicago. Earlier this year, Quinton Dunbar and Su'a Cravens each had an interception of Manning as the Burgundy and Gold forced three turnovers in a Week 3 win in New York. Washington's defense might not get that many stops, but if they can grab extra possessions for their offense, that will provide major help.
- 'Playoffs start early' - A leader in the locker room, Pierre Garçon had a message this week, saying that "the playoffs start early for us." It's that simple for the Redskins. Gruden said all week that making the playoffs is his baseline for a successful season, and that cannot happen unless his team wins on Sunday. For all the progress Washington has made under the Gruden and Scot McCloughan regime, a loss in this meaningful of a game would be a tremendous setback.
Numbers & Notes
- Kirk Cousins is 370 yards away from 5,000 passing yards for the season. No Redskins QB has ever thrown for 5,000 yards.
- With just 170 passing yards, Kirk Cousins becomes the first quarterback in team history to average 300 passing yards per game in a season. The previous record was 269.1, set by Mark Rypien in 1989. Cousins is currently averaging 308 YPG.
- Pierre Garçon needs one catch to extend his streak of consecutive regular season games played with a reception to 102, the fifth longest active streak in the NFL (Larry Fitzgerald, 194; Brandon Marshall, 159; Steve Smith Sr., 142; Michael Crabtree, 110).
- Pierre Garcon needs 55 receiving yards for 1,000 on the season, his first 1,000 yard season since 2013.
- Jamison Crowder enters the game as the NFL's leader with a 13.1 yard punt-return-average. He will attempt to become the first member of the Redskins to lead the NFL in punt return average since Brian Mitchell in 1994 (14.1).
- With four catches, DeSean Jackson will record his 500th career reception, becoming the 16th active player in that club.
- Needing just 29 yards for 1,000 yards this season, DeSean Jackson has gone over 100 yards receiving in three straight games and four of the Redskins last five games.
- One more touchdown of 60-yards or more will tie DeSean Jackson with the ultimate receiver royalty in Jerry Rice for TDs of 60+ yards.
- By starting Sunday, Brandon Scherff will join Chris Samuels (2000-01) and Jon Jansen (1999-2000) as the only Redskins offensive linemen to open their careers starting every game their first two seasons.
- With one more interception, Josh Norman will tie his career high with four INTs. Norman had two picks last week in Chicago.
- Jordan Reed needs seven catches to become the 12th player with 250 receptions with the Redskins.
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