Saturday Night NFL; Giants Last Hope For The Playoffs, Bettors Undecided

Team Page: New York :: Washington

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Despite their uninspired play and continued collapse, the New York Giants are still in prime position to reach the playoffs and keep Tiki Barber's career going.

Various scenarios can get the Giants into the playoffs despite having lost six of seven since their 6-2 start, but winning on the road Saturday night against the Washington Redskins to end the regular season would provide the easiest route.

If New York fails to qualify for the postseason, this will be the final game for the leading rusher in franchise history. Barber has said he will retire when this season ends despite being only 31 years old.

Oddsmakers have made New York -1 point spread favorites (NFL Odds) for Saturday's game, the over/under has been set at 42.5 total points (NFL Sports Books).

``It's obvious my focus is about winning and doing the best I can to help my team,'' he said. ``That's all that matters. The nostalgia you guys are looking for, it's not there. I'm thankful for my career, I'm excited for the opportunity we have this week, but I'm not upset that it's over.''

The Giants (7-8) are tied with Green Bay, Carolina, Atlanta and St. Louis for the final NFC wild-card berth. However, New York currently holds that spot based on owning a tiebreaker over the Packers, who hold tiebreakers over the Panthers, Falcons and Rams.

If New York beats Washington (5-10) on Saturday, it then must wait for favorable results in any one of 10 Sunday games. The easiest would be if Dallas defeats Detroit, thus giving the Giants the strength of victory edge over the Packers, even if they beat the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.

In an even stranger scenario, the Giants can lose Saturday and still get in if each of the four teams they are tied with loses Sunday.

Just getting a win might be hard for the Giants, who continue to play poorly and have watched their fans turn on the team and coach.

``It's very easy to not want to be part of a team that's not having success,'' said New York coach Tom Coughlin, whose job could be in jeopardy regardless of Saturday's outcome. ``The key thing right now is for the men to stand up. We do have an opportunity to be 8-8. Is it going to be easy? Of course not.''

That's because the Giants have hardly shown signs of playing like a playoff team. They lost their fourth straight home game last Sunday, 30-7 to New Orleans, and heard plenty of jeers from the fans as the team finished with a 3-5 record at the Meadowlands.

``I didn't expect them to cheer us,'' said Giants center Shaun O'Hara after his team failed to take a snap in Saints' territory all afternoon. ``They are obviously upset with us and they have a right to be.''

It's hard for Giants fans to be too upset with Barber considering what he's done over his 10 years with the team. He is one of only 20 players in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards, and is closing out his fifth consecutive season with at least 1,200.

Barber, though, has struggled in recent weeks behind an injury-plagued offense, with only one 100-yard game over the past six weeks.

``If I play like I've checked out, I've checked out, but I don't think I ever have,'' said Barber, who has only two touchdowns this season after totaling 26 over the previous two years.

Eli Manning also hasn't been helping the offense much lately and is coming off a dreadful performance last Sunday, going 9-of-25 for a season-low 74 yards. He has thrown one touchdown pass and three interceptions over the last two games since throwing for three TDs in a 27-13 win over Carolina.

``I have to get the offense going and the team going in the right direction,'' Manning said.

To change things up on offense, Coughlin announced this week that quarterbacks coach Kevin Gilbride would assume play-calling duties from offensive coordinator John Hufnagel for Saturday's game.

``I'm hoping it sparks us to win a game - a football game,'' Coughlin told the team's official Web site.

Washington ranks 30th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 355.5 yards per game. The Redskins gave up a season-high 579 yards in a 37-31 overtime loss to St. Louis last Sunday.

The New York defense, which has battled injuries and inconsistency all year, will be without star defensive Michael Strahan for the rest of the season. The seven-time Pro Bowler, limited to nine games and three sacks this season, was placed on injured reserve after aggravating a sprained right foot last Sunday.

Since allowing an average of 10.4 points during a five-game winning streak from Oct. 8-Nov. 5, the Giants have given up an average of 27.1 points.

New York also lost return man Chad Morton for the season after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament covering a punt against New Orleans.

One of New York's best defensive performances of the year came in the first meeting with Washington, a 19-3 victory on Oct. 8. The Redskins had only 10 first downs and 164 total yards.

Washington's offense has improved recently thanks in part to the emergence of Ladell Betts, who could set a franchise record with his sixth straight 100-yard rushing game Saturday. Betts ran for 129 yards on 29 carries to notch the first 1,000-yard season of his career, though his fourth-quarter fumble in St. Louis territory wasted a good scoring opportunity for the Redskins.

Rookie quarterback Jason Campbell has cut down on his mistakes lately, with no turnovers in the past two games. He threw five interceptions over his previous three outings.

``Down the stretch, we've been playing real good, we've just got to get over that hump,'' Campbell said. ``It's frustrating, but at the same time you've got to feel we're there. The best part of it: Next year, I'll start the season out as my team, my year, 0-0. Go get it.''

By: David Michaels - - Email Us

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