The New York Giants know they will be playing next week. They will try to make sure that game’s at home as they close the regular season against the Oakland Raiders needing a win to clinch the NFC East title.
New York wrapped up a playoff berth Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Baltimore Ravens. The Giants missed an opportunity to clinch their first division title since 2000 with a 35-20 defeat last Saturday to the Washington Redskins, forcing them into a must-win situation to have a first-round home game in the playoffs.
“We’re looking to win this coming weekend so that we’re able to say we won the division,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
New York enters this game with a linebacking corps so decimated by injuries the team was forced to re-sign Kevin Lewis, its starting middle linebacker last season who was among the final preseason cuts and has not played since. Lewis will start this game, and Coughlin is hoping his familiarity with the system will bring some stability.
“Kevin is a unique guy, because he knows the system, so it won’t take him long to get acquainted,” Coughlin said. “He’s a physical guy and we’re very fortunate that he has the ability to play the middle.”
Reggie Torbor aggrivated a hamstring injury in last week’s loss and Antonio Pierce is out with a high ankle sprain. The Giants placed starting outside linebacker Carlos Emmons on injured reserve with a strained pectoral muscle, meaning that they will be without all three starting linebackers who began the season.
Emmons seethed upon hearing of Coughlin’s decision to put him on IR instead of Pierce.
“I definitely could play,” Emmons said Tuesday. “They tell me that the risk is there of tearing it completely, but that risk has always been there and I came back (to face Denver Oct. 23 after missing two games). The risk wasn’t a big thing then and I came back. Now, it’s a big thing and I don’t understand. I don’t care about taking chances in getting hurt. I could play. If this was the Super Bowl, I would play.”
Nick Greisen will start at the other outside position and is just happy there will be enough bodies to rotate.
“Let’s call it the LB Shuffle,” Greisen said. “We have to prepare to play all positions. There are a lot of new faces and a lot of learning going on. The more they learn, the better off we’ll be. It’s great to have Kevin back. He knows the system and we definitely need him. It takes the pressure off me.”
The Giants will also be without star tight end Jeremy Shockey, who injured his ankle against the Redskins.
The Raiders are wrapping up their third consecutive season with 11 or more losses, the first time that has happened in the 45-year history of the team.
Despite the offseason acquisitions of wide receiver Randy Moss and running back Lamont Jordan, the offense never got in sync as quarterback Kerry Collins struggled. The defense also didn’t improve much, and Norv Turner has already tried to defuse speculation this will be his last game as Raiders coach due in part to owner Al Davis’ lack of patience.
“I haven’t had discussions (with Davis),” Turner said on Monday. “As I’ve said over the last couple of weeks, I’m of a mindset to want to get into this game, prepare for this game, and there will be discussions, obviously, after the final game.”
Moss has just 53 catches for 889 yards and a career-low six touchdowns. In his first seven years with Minnesota, he averaged 82 receptions for 1,306 yards and nearly 13 TDs. Jordan, who did top 1,000 yards in his first year as a starting running back, will miss his second straight game due to turf toe.
Collins is eager for the opportunity to take on the Giants, the team he helped lead to the 2001 Super Bowl. Collins insists he no longer has any ill feelings toward his former franchise, but made clear that he doesn’t see Sunday’s contest as just a season-ending game for Oakland.
“Certainly I was disappointed when things went down the way they did, and so to exact a little bit of revenge this weekend would be nice,” said Collins, who joined the Raiders after New York’s acquisition of Eli Manning last year made him expendable. “But first and foremost, we want to win the ballgame for our own reasons. It’s been a tough year, and we want to finish it the right way.”
The Raiders placed Charles Woodson, who broke his right leg on Oct. 23, on injured reserve Thursday, ending the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback’s season and possibly signaling the end of his career in Oakland.
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