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With Plaxico Burress set to serve a one-game suspension, the Giants look to remain undefeated Sunday when they host a Seahawks team expecting Deion Branch and Bobby Engram to make their season debuts.
Branch (knee) and Engram (shoulder) should play Sunday, according to Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren. That would be a major boost for Seattle (1-2), coming off a bye and hoping to bounce back from a poor start as it faces a stout Giants’ defense.
New York (3-0), meanwhile, is one of three undefeated teams remaining. But the Giants, who also had their bye last week, won’t have their top offensive threat in this contest.
Burress was suspended last week for a game and told to stay away from the team until Oct. 5, a punishment handed down for missing a practice and not calling to explain his absence. With Burress out, Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss and rookie Mario Manningham will get more playing time.
Hixon, a surprise in training camp, is expected to start for Burress, opposite Amani Toomer.
“That is our strong point this season—a lot of different weapons at the receiver position,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. “So obviously we don’t have Plaxico out there and he is a tremendous threat, but our other guys have been making plays all year and will step up and make some plays this week.”
Manning and the Giants can always fall back on what has been an outstanding running game. Brandon Jacobs has rushed for 244 yards on 50 carries and has been complemented by Derrick Ward, who has 177 yards on 26 carries.
If New York needs to use a ball-control strategy, its defense appears up to the task. The Giants gave up a total of 20 points in their first two games before a 26-23 win over Cincinnati on Sept. 21.
Over a full season that would translate to 69 sacks, three less than the league record set by the Chicago Bears in 1984. Last season, New York led the league with 53.
“We never once had a doubt,” said defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka of the Giants’ ability to pressure the quarterback this season. “We just had things we had to prove. That was a different group than last year and when Osi went down we knew there would be some skepticism. If you thought the way we felt though, you knew it was just a matter of time.”
If New York can’t get to Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, it could be a long day for its secondary.
Engram, who set the Seahawks record with 94 catches last season but has been out for seven weeks with a broken right shoulder, will play. So will Branch, the former Super Bowl MVP who is in his third season with Seattle.
“They are great guys, great teammates and they are really good players,” Hasselbeck said. “So having them back is definitely a boost for just the confidence and a swagger that we have had at times on offense.”
Koren Robinson, signed on Sept. 16, may also play after missing a 37-13 win over St. Louis on Sept. 21 with a sore knee.
Of course, Hasselbeck will need time to get the ball to his receivers. Having starting right tackle Sean Locklear healthy for the first time this season will certainly help.
Locklear sprained his knee in a preseason game on Aug. 16. Ray Willis has been starting and playing well there since, but Holmgren said he “suspects” Locklear will start Sunday.
This will be the first meeting between the Seahawks and Giants since Sept. 24, 2006, when New York lost 42-30 at Seattle. Seattle and New York have the two longest playoff streaks in the NFC, with the Seahawks having been to five straight postseasons and the Giants three in a row.