The stage is set for an epic showdown between the Washington Commanders and New York Giants this weekend.
The last matchup between the two NFC East rivals ended in a 20-20 tie in East Rutherford, New Jersey, earlier this month, and things have changed for both teams since then. The Giants, who have not won a game since their game with the Houston Texans in November, suffered another defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. That gave them the same record as the Commanders (7-5-1), who have jumped back into the playoff picture and are in the sixth seed.
The Commanders currently have a 73% chance of making the playoffs at this point in the season; a win on Sunday Night Football bumps that up to 93%, while a loss knocks it down to 43%.
Every game is important, but it is hard to downplay the rematch's significance.
Unlike the Giants, Washington was awarded the benefit of taking a week off before the rematch, allowing key players to rest up before the playoff push. Some are more certain to be ready for Sunday; others have more questions surrounding them. Either way, having at least one of them back could make the difference.
So, here are some positions and players to monitor throughout the Commanders' week of practice.
The Commanders' secondary did a solid job of getting by without Benjamin St-Juste, who has been sidelined with an ankle sprain, for the past two games. Players like Christian Holmes and Danny Johnson both had their moments, but the previous matchup against the Giants made it clear that the Commanders need the cornerback to return sooner than later.
St-Juste has made impressive strides since his rookie season, which is why the Commanders feel confident enough to put him up against opponents' top receivers. Against the Houston Texans, for example, he was targeted four times and only allowed one reception for four yards. The key to St-Juste's success is his rare blend of size and athleticism, allowing him to keep up with quicker receivers and match the physicality of larger pass-catchers.
Daniel Jones only threw for 200 yards, but there were moments, such as the 55-yard reception by Darius Slayton, where his absence was felt. St-Juste has not been seen much of the practice field since the Texans game, so it would be a positive development if he were to participate on Wednesday.
It has been three weeks since Young was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list and even longer since he was designated to return to practice. He has yet to play in a game this season.
The Commanders have taken every effort to be cautious with the 20202 No. 2 overall pick. While he has made progress each week, there is no pressure for him to rush back into the gameday lineup because of how well the defensive line is playing as of late. The front has helped Washington rack up 34 sacks, which is tied for 10th in the league.
Young has been medically cleared for weeks, but the Commanders want to see him plant his foot with confidence and protect himself. The only real way to build that confidence is through reps on the field, and while practice can be helpful, it is difficult to mimic what Young would see in a game.
Rivera said Young has "come a long way," and he would be another weapon for the Commanders' pass rush, even if he is on a limited snap count. Hopefully, Young will be ready, but his long-term health is more important.
The Commanders' offensive line has been banged up at various points throughout the season, and the latest round of injuries will require more shakeups in the starting lineup.
Tyler Larsen has been placed on Injured Reserve with a knee injury, meaning the Commanders need another answer at center. Nick Martin is the primary backup, but Wes Schweitzer is an impressive run-blocker, which could be useful against the likes of Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. Schweitzer missed significant time with a concussion and was recently activated, though, so it will be interesting to see who the coaches decide to play on Sunday.
The Commanders have similar issues at guard. Trai Turner missed the Giants game with knee and ankle injuries, leaving Sam Cosmi to play guard for the first time in his professional career. Cosmi played well at times, but he left the game with an ankle injury. Having either back would be a plus for the Commanders; Turner has played much better he did at the start of the season, while Cosmi has quickness that is useful against interior defensive tackles.
While the Giants have allowed at least 100 rushing yards in their past two games, they still possess one of the better defensive lines in the league. Washington's offensive line will need to be as close to full strength as possible to give itself the best chance to win.