WASHINGTON REDSKINS (0-0) vs. GIANTS (0-0)
The Teams: The first game of the final season in Giants Stadium features the best and the worst of last season's NFC East race. The Giants, on their way to a 12-4 finish, beat the Redskins twice, 16-7 in the opener and 23-7 in Game 12, to push Washington to an 8-8 finish.
The History: The Giants are 47-32-5 on opening day, and are 9-3 against NFC East teams at home on opening day since 1970. They've played Washington five times on opening day at home, losing only once. And they're 21-12 overall against the Skins in the Meadowlands.
Watch This: For all the talk about the young wide receivers corps, the Giants would like nothing better than to run the ball 30 times, mostly with Brandon Jacobs. But to do that against an aggressive front seven featuring mammoth DT Albert Haynesworth, first-round linebacker Brian Orakpo, and London Fletcher, they'll have to loosen things up. That means tight end Kevin Boss could get a lot of business from Eli Manning in the short passing game, just to keep a pass rush that improves this year with Haynesworth in the middle. The Redskins' defense ranked fourth overall last year, while allowing the sixth-lowest points total.
The passing game could get very interesting against a secondary that features ballhawking corner DeAngelo Hall and a guided missle in safety LaRon Landry. Tom Coughlin indicated first-round rookie Hakeem Nicks would join Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, and either Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham, or Derek Hagan out there, but said little about throwing five receivers out there to spread out that defense. Nicks proved in the preseason he can make the acrobatic catch. How he'll hold up against the truly experienced, physical secondary of the Redskins is the question. Also, no word on whether leaping rookie Ramses Barden will contribute, perhaps on the end zone fade Manning threw so well to the pre-target practice Plaxico Burress.
It's going to be a physical game up front, with center Shaun O'Hara and guard Rich Seubert having to push the 340-pound Haynesworth around. That won't be easy, especially if Haynesworth is carrying a few of those $100 million Dan Snyder used to lure him out of Tennessee this offseason. But that's the main job, which is made only more difficult by ex-Giant Cornelius Griffin on the other side.
Just a thought here, and maybe a far-fetched one: Could this be a good time to go Wildcat once or twice? Maybe a direct snap to Ahmad Bradshaw or Sinorice Moss if Jacobs gets bogged down? Everybody's Cat'n around these days, right? Might as well join the party from the get-go.
Defensively, the overall plan will remain the same: Rush The Passer! Jason Campbell could have a busy day as Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka pressure from up front, with Chase Blackburn lending support at weakside linebacker while Michael Boley sits out a one-game league suspension. They'd better got to him, too, because the right cornerback spot will be vulnerable with neither Aaron Ross or Kevin Dockery there. Terrell Thomas will make just his second start in place of Ross, with undrafted rookie Bruce Johnson pressed into premature service at the nickle. If the heat doesn't get to Campbell, he'll have time to find big-play, 1,000-yard receiver Santana Moss (Sinorice's brother) downfield, and that means trouble. Don't minimize the danger tight end Chris Cooley presents, or No. 2 receiver Devin Thomas. WR Antwan Randle-El presents a run-pass option.
The defense may do some box-packing of their own against Clinton Portis. He's one of the more dangerous backs in the league, though he only rushed 11 times for 22 yards in the teams' last meeting. Still, between him and Ladell Betts, the Redskins have some of the best running back depth around.
Prediction: This is always a physical game, as most NFC East contests are. This one will be no different. Look for a low score, with the Giants' offense doing just enough to get by. Giants 17-10.
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