By Paul Dottino
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A three-game season, that’s what it has come down to.

The Giants (7-6) are one of nearly two dozen teams who enter the weekend with a mathematical chance to make the playoffs, although many of them will need a variety of combinations to get in. Not the Giants. Coach Tom Coughlin and his players will be the NFC East champions and host a first-round playoff game, should they beat the Redskins, Jets and Cowboys.

There are other ways for the Giants to get in, but it’s very unlikely they will qualify as a wild-card team. They need to think of this scenario as “division champion” or “stay home.”

The Washington Redskins (4-9) might be able to provide the icing on the motivational cake since they are division rivals and because they outplayed the Giants on opening day in the nation’s capital, 28-14. At the time, the Giants’ defense appeared confused and out of sync – and not much has changed since then, but Eli Manning and the offense have grown into one of the league’s most dangerous passing attacks.

So here are the key matchups:

1. Giants OLBs Jacquian Williams and Michael Boley vs. Redskins RB Roy Helu. The Redskins do not have much to offer on offense, but Helu has run for at least 100 yards in each of the past three games – the first rookie back in franchise history to put together such a streak.

Helu is quick and prefers to run off the edges. Of greater significance is that he’s the most important factor in the Redskins keeping balanced — and not having to put the game in QB Rex Grossman’s hands.

Helu is not very strong and has trouble handling the blitz. The Giants’ task is simple – maintain their run fits and use sound tackling technique, especially early in the game. Once they contain Helu, it will put too much pressure on Grossman to try to win the game.

2. Giants defensive ends vs. Redskins offensive tackles. No names here because injuries will heavily play into who determines these matchups.

We know NFC Defensive Player of the Week Jason Pierre-Paul will start at one defensive end for the Giants and he had two sacks in the opener. Justin Tuck (toe) said he would be a game-time decision, so that may leave Dave Tollefson to start on the other side – and he had a sack in the opener, as well. Redskins starting LT Trent Williams is serving a suspension and Sean Locklear is expected to give way to rookie Willie Smith in the starting lineup this weekend. RT Jammal Brown (groin) is hurting, which means former Seahawk Tyler Polumbus would get the call.

Regardless of who lines up on Sunday, the Giants need to make sure the tackles do not secure the edge for Helu and then must pressure Grossman. The quarterback has thrown 16 interceptions this season, having thrown at least one pick in nine of the 10 games he’s played – he was 21-of-34 for 305 yards with two TDs and no interceptions against the Giants. Grossman has been known to force passes into bad spots, specifically went looking deep.

3. Giants special teams vs. Redskins special teams. One of the most important things a team cannot do against an inferior foe is to allow that opponent to tilt the field. The Redskins can do such that with speedy return specialist Brandon Banks (who hasn’t had much blocking help this season) or with the NFL’s No. 1 kickoff coverage unit (19.9 avg.) and No. 7 punt coverage squad (7.4 avg.).

Although the Giants have done a much better job in preventing returns this season, their own return men hardly ever give the offense a jump start.

PREDICTION: Giants 31, Redskins 20


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