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Commanders excited, prepared for primetime rematch with Giants

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Try as they might to treat Sunday's primetime matchup with the New York Giants like any other game, it is hard to ignore how much the Washington Commanders' playoff chances could be swayed in either direction by the outcome. 

The Commanders, who have climbed from the depths of a 1-4 start to currently holding the sixth seed in the playoffs with 6-1-1 record since October, have a 73% shot of making the postseason through the remaining four games. A win brings it up to 90%, while a loss essentially chops it in half. 

At least the Commanders are acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary this week. The mood in the locker room was light after Wednesday's practice; if anything, it seemed livelier after the players received a week of rest from the bye week. Players were laughing and joking with each other as reporters perused from one player to the next asking about the significance of this weekend. 

And as calm and collected as the players have been this week, it is clear that they are eager to prove themselves on a national stage. 

"Growing up, you watch primetime games all the time," Logan Thomas said. "You always see yourself in those moments, and I think anybody is gonna get ready to roll for that."

The Commanders are one of the younger teams in the NFL -- they were 14th with an average age of 25.8 heading into the 2022 season -- but they have played their fair share of primetime games since Ron Rivera took over in 2020. Washington is 5-2 in that span, including two wins this season against the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. 

The Commanders were in dire situations heading into both matchups. Against the Bears, Washington was coming off a four-game losing streak, while it was trying to come back to .500 in Philadelphia, which was the only undefeated team, on Monday Night Football. 

It was not always pretty, but Washington found ways to win. So, an NFC East matchup that was flexed to Sunday Night Football with serious playoff implications is nothing new for the players. 

"You treat it as the same," Antonio Gibson said. "A lot of people counted us out. We put ourselves in a position to be in that talk right now. Just go out there and handle business. That's our goal."

Do not confuse that for a lack of enthusiasm for Sunday, though. There is plenty of that in the locker room as well. 

"[Primetime games] are the games you dream of as a kid," Taylor Heinicke said. "Playing in front of everybody, the whole world is watching. It's an opportunity to showcase, as a team, what you got. Guys get really excited for that." 

The difference is that Washington is expected to win against the Giants, which presents another challenge for the team. 

"We have to be able to handle that success," Rivera said. "We have to be able to handle the situation and circumstances we've put ourselves into." 

Rivera did not seem concerned about how his players would handle the extra pressure on Wednesday. As a show of good faith, he gave the team an extra day off during the bye week because he could see that the players "get it" and could handle the added freedom. 

And the players rewarded him for that faith. Rivera was pleased with what he saw during Wednesday's practice and meetings, saying he thought "the guys were energized." 

"I appreciate their enthusiasm, their attentiveness," Rivera said. "They were all attentive, I thought they handled that well. Like I said, there's some little minor details that we got to make sure get cleaned up tomorrow."

The players do not need to be reminded by reporters about the significance of Sunday's game. They already know what is at stake, from playoff seeding to getting the most wins in a season for the franchise since 2016. 

Charles Leno put it best when asked what the Commanders must do to get a win: "Play the best game we can possibly play." 

"We win these four games, we're in the playoffs," Leno said. "That's how the mindset has to be. But it starts with one game at a time." 

The Commanders do not need to wait until mid-January to experience the intensity of the postseason. For them, that has already arrived. 

And the players are anxious to feel that. 

"The best way we can perform is to try and win the football game," Terry McLaurin said. "That continues the momentum I feel like we have. I'm looking forward to hearing the chants and seeing what a playoff game could kind of feel like around here."

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