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Giants at Redskins, Week 17: First look at Sunday’s matchup

For Big Blue, winning won’t be the most important thing

NFL: Washington Redskins at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There is one dominant story line for the playoff-bound New York Giants in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins. Will the Giants go all-out to win the game, playing starters until the outcome is decided, or will they choose to sit key players to be rested and healthy for wild-card weekend?

Coach Ben McAdoo has not addressed that topic, as he has not spoken to the media since Friday. McAdoo is scheduled to speak to the media Wednesday afternoon, so perhaps we will get a hint of his plans at that time.

Quarterback Eli Manning wants to play, and almost certainly will to keep his 198-game consecutive regular-season start streak alive. Odell Beckham Jr. needs four catches to reach 100 for the first time in his career.

Giants players have said they want to go to Washington and win the game, with wide receiver Victor Cruz terming a victory “very important” even though Sunday’s outcome will have no bearing on the Giants’ playoff seeding.

“You want to have momentum,” Cruz said. “Obviously winning, mentally, gives you that momentum. It makes you feel like you're ready to go into the postseason. We're excited about that opportunity and obviously beating Washington will start that off.”

Pat Traina (Inside Football) and I discussed this topic on the most recent episode of the Big Blue Chat podcast, our 100th show. Give that a listen below.

The offense has something to gain

For the Giants’ offense, there is more to gain from starters playing for at least a while than keeping Manning’s streak alive or getting Beckham his 100th catch. Manning and Co. have under-performed all season, 25th in the league in scoring at 19.4 points per game. The Giants have not scored 20 points in a game since a 27-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week 12, and one of those scores came on a Jason Pierre-Paul return of a fumble recovery.

The offense was out of whack in last week’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, with Manning throwing a franchise-record 63 passes. The offense could use a confidence boost, even if it is just one or two quality drives against the Redskins and then getting Manning and other key players out of the game.

With high-scoring playoff opponents like the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys and perhaps even the Redskins on the horizon, the Giants are almost certainly going to need the offense to play better than it has in recent weeks. Perhaps they can use Sunday as a step in that direction.

What we will probably see

My educated guess, and remember that is what it is this point because McAdoo has not yet discussed it, is that the Giants treat this like a preseason game. Starters will play some, with guys at positions like the offensive line where the Giants don’t have a significant number of reserve players, getting extended playing time. The Giants will, I believe, get Manning, Beckham and defensive players like Olivier Vernon, Landon Collins and others out of the game as quickly as they can. A banged-up player like Janoris Jenkins may not play at all.

Something to remember: The Giants may treat this like a preseason game BUT they do not have a preseason roster. They will have 46 players eligible to play, not 90 or even 75 which is the number available in the final preseason game. They don’t have enough reserve players available for all of the starters to take a seat.

Winning Sunday is not important, no matter what the players say. Getting a few reps in game competition to stay sharp might be. And getting through the game with no major injuries certainly is.

The playoff picture

Who will the Giants face wild-card weekend? It won’t be the Redskins, although Washington is still alive in the race for the second wild-card. Washington needs to win to get in, so you know the Giants will get the Redskins best shot.

There are, however, four teams who could end up with the No. 4 seed and would thus host the Giants in the opening round of the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all possible first-round opponents for the Giants based on how Sunday’s games turn out.