It's the first of two critical meetings between the Washington Commanders and New York Giants over a three-week span as both NFC East rivals are jockeying to make the playoffs. Washington swept the two matchups last season, which put an end to a five-game winning streak for New York in the head-to-head series.
Last Sunday, Washington (7-5) got a huge interception in the end zone by Kendall Fuller to hold off Atlanta 19-13 at home. It was the Commanders' third straight win and their sixth in the last seven games. The Falcons were driving for the potential go-ahead touchdown when Marcus Mariota's pass was tipped at the line, leading to the pick. Brian Robinson Jr. posted the first 100-yard game of his NFL career (finished with 105 on 18 carries) and the first for the team this season, which was needed as Atlanta outgained Washington in the game (332 to 318).
New York (7-4) has lost three of its last four, the latest being a 28-20 defeat in Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Giants led 13-7 at the half but couldn't hold on for what would have been a huge road win as the Cowboys swept the season series. Saquon Barkley was very underwhelming with 39 yards on 11 carries, and the offense as a whole was outgained by 130 yards. The defense intercepted Dak Prescott twice but couldn't do much with them. Two straight losses have New York clinging to a wild-card berth and just a half-game up on Washington for last place in the NFC East.
Washington (7-5) at New York (7-4)
Three Things to Watch
1. Giants must make Heinicke open up a can on them
Even though Taylor Heinicke has provided stability to the offense and has played a key role in Washington's resurgence, he hasn't exactly stuffed the stat sheet. In wins over Houston and Atlanta, Heinicke has a total of 329 passing yards on 29 completions. For the season, he has seven touchdowns and five interceptions, but again, he's doing what is necessary to win games. He has the team's full support and the offensive game plan is starting to lean more on the running game with Robinson coming off of his best game this season. New York has had trouble slowing down the run (138.9 ypg, 26th in the NFL), so it would behoove the Giants to stack the box and force Heinicke to have to make plays with his arm. The Commanders have weapons, namely Terry McLaurin (54 rec., 840 yds., 2 TDs) and Curtis Samuel (48, 493, 3), but this also is an offense that isn't known for slinging the ball all over the field. New York has a better shot at getting the win if it can somehow make Washington one-dimensional and put more of the load on Heinicke's shoulders.
2. Is Saquon losing steam?
The Giants' offense is at its best when Barkley is piling up yards, particularly on the ground. This season, New York is 5-1 when he goes over 80 rushing yards. The problem is that he has just 61 yards on 26 carries over the last two games combined, which is a major reason why the Giants lost to the Lions and Cowboys by a total of 21 points. Barkley has been durable and able to stay on the field this season, as his 224 carries through 11 games are already more than he logged the previous two seasons combined. But perhaps he's literally run into a wall because of this? More production from Daniel Jones and the passing game would certainly help and take some pressure off Barkley. However, Jones has just four 200-yard passing performances this season with only 10 touchdowns. He's been effective on the ground (451 yds., 4 TDs) but that's not necessarily the wisest approach to take against this Washington defense...
3. Will Washington's D take Command(ers) of this game?
Washington's defense has been a key to the team's success, especially recently. For the season, the Commanders are eighth against the run, giving up 108.4 yards per game and a total of six touchdowns on the ground. Prior to the Falcons finishing with 167 rushing yards last week (Atlanta is second in the NFL in rushing attempts), Washington had surrendered 171 in its last three games combined. The Commanders have a pretty good idea of what New York will try to do (i.e., establish Barkley early), so look for their stout defensive line to try and set the tone early. Washington also has generated seven takeaways in its last three contests, so ball security could be a key factor in this matchup.
This feels like a rather large game for the Giants, who may be finally feeling the crunch of playing above their roster talent level. Daniel Jones is being asked to do a lot with a very mediocre supporting cast, outside of Saquon Barkley. It was alright early on in the season because they were keeping teams honest with the ground game. Now that's not happening and it's forcing Jones to do a lot more than he may be capable of doing. The Commanders are playing great football right now (even if it's not the most exciting style), and I don't see it stopping on Sunday.
Prediction: Commanders 20, Giants 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
*Price as of publication.