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Players to Watch: Captains lead the way in Minnesota

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In their first trip to the postseason in six years, the Giants will get a chance to avenge their Christmas Eve loss as they travel back to Minnesota for a rematch against the Vikings.

The two teams played each other extremely close in Week 16, with the Vikings taking the victory on the foot of Greg Joseph, who connected on a career-long 61-yard kick as time expired to give them a 27-24 win.

Despite the lights being a little brighter this weekend, coach Brian Daboll is keeping the same approach the team has taken all season.

"I think it goes back to consistency and how we operate; stay true to what we've been doing," the head coach said Wednesday. "Obviously, there's only six games this weekend. So, we all understand that. But it's a privilege to be in the playoffs – to have an opportunity to compete. And our consistency with what we do and our process and our preparation, that's the most important."

Here are five players to watch in the Wild Card matchup:

QB Daniel Jones

In his first season under Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, Daniel Jones put together easily his most efficient season in the NFL. Jones started the first 16 games of the season before sitting the season finale along with the rest of the starters. It was the first time in his four NFL seasons that he did not miss a game due to injury. As the old football saying goes, "The best ability is availability."

Not only did Jones do a great job of being able to stay on the field, but he also put up some of the best numbers of his young career. The 25-year-old set new career-highs with 3,205 passing yards and a 92.5 passer rating to go with 15 touchdowns, five interceptions and five game-winning drives. In addition to his personal marks, Jones also set franchise QB records in numerous categories, including completion percentage (67.2 percent), interception percentage (1.06, which was No. 1 in the NFL), rushing yards (708) and rushing touchdowns (seven).

Jones had one of his best performances of the season in Minnesota on Christmas Eve. He threw for 334 yards, seven shy of his season's best, with one touchdown and one interception for a passer rating of 92.8. He also added four rush attempts for 34 yards, good for an average of 8.5 yards per carry. The Vikings' pass defense finished 31st on the season after allowing 265.6 passing yards per game. However, they averaged just 146.5 passing yards per game allowed in their final two contests.

"Everyone understands where we are now," Jones said this week. "We're in the playoffs. We're past the regular season. The games mean more from the sense that you lose, you go home. So, people understand that. They understand what's at stake. But the only way we're going to play as well as we want to play is to prepare how we have all year, to trust our process and stick to that. So, that's largely been the conversation amongst the guys."

View photos from practice as the Giants get ready for their Wild Card matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

RB Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley joined Jones in putting up career numbers in 2022. The star running back registered a personal-best 1,312 yards on the ground this season, which ranked fourth in the NFL, and added 338 receiving yards on 57 receptions. His 1,650 total yards from scrimmage was the second-highest of his career and ranked seventh in the league. He was one of three players this season to lead his team in both rushing and receptions, joining Chargers RB Austin Ekeler and Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson.

Barkley last appeared on New Year's Day, where his 58 rushing yards increased his career total to 4,249. This elevated him past Ahmad Bradshaw (4,232) into sixth place on the Giants' all-time rushing list. His performance this season earned him his second selection to the Pro Bowl and his first since his breakout rookie campaign in 2018.

Similar to Jones, Barkley had one of his most productive outings of the season against the Vikings. The 25-year-old back averaged 6.0 yards per carry on 14 attempts. He finished with 84 yards on the ground, including his clutch 27-yard touchdown run on a 4th-and-2 late in the fourth quarter which helped the Giants tie the game. Barkley also had his best day as a receiver in Minnesota, catching a season-high eight passes for 49 yards. The Vikings' run defense ranked 20th in the league this season with their 123.1 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry allowed. They also surrendered 18 rushing touchdowns, which tied the Green Bay Packers for 23rd in the NFL.

T Andrew Thomas

After seeing steady growth in his first two years in the NFL, Andrew Thomas was one of the Giants' breakout stars this season. The 23-year-old started the first 16 games of the year before sitting out Week 18 with the rest of the starters. The left tackle played 100 percent of the team's offensive snaps in 14 games, while on the field for over 80 percent of the other two. The only snaps Thomas missed were due to games being out of hand late in the second half.

Several media outlets praised Thomas in recent weeks for his standout play. ESPN's Bill Barnwell and Pro Football Focus selected Thomas as a first team All-Pro left tackle. According to PFF, Thomas registered just two penalties all season and allowed 21 total pressures on over 600 pass blocking snaps. Meanwhile, Barnwell had the tackle down for just two sacks allowed. ESPN ranked Thomas No. 12 on their Top 25 players under 25-years-old earlier this season, as well.

The Vikings boast a talented pair of edge rushers in Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith. Both veterans reached the 10-sack mark this season while also totaling at least 22 quarterback hits apiece.

View rare photos of the Giants' history playing on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.

DL Dexter Lawrence

The other big breakout star this season is Dexter Lawrence, who has put himself in the conversation of the NFL's top defensive linemen. Lawrence played in 16 games for the fourth consecutive season, but this time around, he established new career-highs in just about every category. The 25-year-old racked up 7.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits, shattering his previous personal bests of 4.0 and 11, respectively. He also recorded 68 total tackles (35 solo), seven tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Lawrence played a career-high 82 percent of the team's defensive snaps after never topping 69 percent in his first three seasons.

Lawrence has been collecting a ton of accolades recently, starting with his first selection to the Pro Bowl. On Wednesday, Lawrence was voted to the inaugural Players' All-Pro Team, which was voted exclusively by the players. Earlier in the week, PFF named the defensive lineman first team All-Pro, as well.

"Every great defense has a centerpiece," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale told the media last week. "You go back and look at the defense that we're building with the great defenses of the past, they always have a great centerpiece. And he has definitely become the centerpiece of our defense and I think it's awesome. I told him yesterday I was so happy for him, proud of him, because he's a good person, he's smart, and he's worked his tail off. I think it's great when you see a player succeed who puts as much work in as he has."

"I think Dexter's been a really good team leader for us; he's been a good player for us," Daboll added. "I think different people build their teams different ways. I think it's important to be strong up the middle. Dexter's had a good season for us. I'm glad he's on our football team."

S Xavier McKinney

The Giants' defense received a significant boost on New Year's Day when Xavier McKinney returned to the secondary. McKinney had last appeared in Week 8 before a hand injury forced him to miss the next seven contests. In his first game back in over two months, the third-year safety picked up right where he left off prior to the injury. Against the Colts, McKinney finished second on the team with seven tackles (four solo) along with a pass breakup.

In the first meeting between the Giants and Vikings, tight end T.J. Hockenson did plenty of damage, reeling in 13 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. McKinney has surrendered just seven receptions for 47 yards on 10 targets this year, good for an opposing passer rating against of 40.4, according to PFF.

"Hockenson is one of the best tight ends in the league and it showed last time we played him," McKinney told reporters this week. "He's really good. He's a really good tight end so we've just got to be prepared. I've got to be prepared to be able to have that matchup against him. I'm excited for it, it's going to be fun. So like I said, I'll be ready."

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