After six games, the Washington Redskins finally open NFC East play Sunday at the New York Giants, a time lag that no one in Washington is complaining about considering the rigor of the twice-annual clashes with the Giants, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
"It's always an advantage if you're going to play within your division if it's little bit later than earlier, especially with rookie players," coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think it is a big benefit for us with (rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III) and a kid like (rookie running back) Alfred (Morris)."
Griffin and Morris don't know what to expect Sunday, but their older teammates do.
"It's gonna be a slugfest," said right guard Chris Chester, who experienced the same kind of intensity when he was playing for the Baltimore Ravens against their AFC North archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's about four quarters of hard-nosed football," said nose tackle Barry Cofield, who's in his second season with the Redskins after playing his first five with the Giants.
"We only had one playoff team (from the division) last year, but the Giants won the Super Bowl," said cornerback Josh Wilson, who played for Baltimore and for the Seattle Seahawks before coming to Washington in 2011. "They were (just) 9-7, but they ran through everybody else like it was nothing. You're gonna have to give it everything you've got to win this division, and if you do, other games seem easier. It's a blessing for Robert that he was able to get comfortable in the offense and have a little confidence going before we started playing in the division. Last year, Game 1, we got the Giants. The year before, it was the Cowboys on 'Monday Night Football.'"
For what it's worth, the Redskins won both of those games. In fact, although they were 3-11 against everyone else in 2011, they swept the Giants, winning the opener 28-14 and then taking a 23-10 victory in Week 15 at Giants Stadium.
"They know what we're capable of after last year," Chester said. "It's something for us to put in the back of our minds that we've done well against these guys."
Center Will Montgomery, who spent time with the Carolina Panthers and the New York Jets before coming to Washington in 2008, noted the talent of the defensive fronts of the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys.
"I think we have the elite division for D-lines, that's for sure," Montgomery said. "There's a reason those guys are going to Pro Bowls."
Wilson said the NFC East is a different animal than other division in part because its teams play in three of the top eight markets.
"It's definitely different playing here than in the NFC West," Wilson said. "When I was there, it was a lot of passing, not too many top running backs. San Francisco was the only really run-oriented team. The AFC North was hard-nosed football. They were gonna run the ball every week. It was gonna be a grind-out game.
"The NFC East, everybody can pass and run. It's more of a challenge. You can't focus on the pass or focus on the run. And you have to be ready to play on a national stage. You don't see too many rookies other than our guys that can perform on this kind of stage because you're gonna be in the limelight. You're gonna have the pressure on you, so you have to be able to handle it."