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Giants have playoff mindset for Cowboys matchup


The Giants realize the importance of Sunday's matchup with the Cowboys:

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If NBC was looking to create some additional hype for its Sunday prime time showdown between the Giants and Cowboys in MetLife Stadium, the network only had to leave a microphone in the home team's locker room this week.

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"This is a playoff game for us in my mind," Odell Beckham, Jr. said.

"This is huge," defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said. "Not saying the last game we had (last week in Pittsburgh) wasn't huge, but this is big in the division. We have got to win this. My ultimate goal is to win the division and they are in our way, so we have to make sure that we get them taken care of."

"We know we haven't played our best ball yet," linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "If we can put the game together this week, I think it would be a statement game."

Even Eli Manning, who doesn't consider game promotion part of his job description, played along.

"A big game for us," Manning said. "They're obviously playing great football. They haven't lost since the first game. I think I remember who beat them that game. It's a big week. We have to have great preparation. It's going to be a great environment on Sunday night."

He speaks the truth. MetLife will be rocking for the renewal of a decades-old rivalry on what promises to be a cold and perhaps snowy night. The Cowboys are an NFL-best 11-1 and have won 11 consecutive games since they lost their opener three months ago to the…yes, it was the Giants, 20-19. The Giants trail them in the NFC East race by three games. Since only four games remain, beating Dallas is a mathematical necessity if the Giants are to keep their division title hopes alive.

"We have a big game, a big opportunity for us in the division," coach Ben McAdoo said. "It will be a highly-competitive football game and an opportunity for us to get a win."

"We have to play our best game this week," Casillas said. "They do have one loss. Let's not forget that. Everyone talks about how good Dallas is and they're the best team in the league. You have to give them credit because the credit is due, but they have one loss. Just in case anyone forgot about that."

The Cowboys have already clinched a postseason berth, but want to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Giants want to take another step closer to being a postseason participant.

"There's not much more you could ask for," Beckham said. "In the NFL, Sunday Night Football, going against the Dallas Cowboys, it's pretty much everything. It's a lot of fun. It's awesome to be in these moments and opportunities. Hopefully, we come out and play our best."

The game is fraught with subplots. The Giants are looking to improve their offensive output after failing to gain 300 yards in either of their last two games. They ran for just 56 yards last week in Pittsburgh, and now they face a Cowboys defense that is No. 2 in the NFL vs. the run.

"Guys know that we didn't play our best," Manning said. "We left some plays out there. Pittsburgh did a good job. You have to understand that that's football. You're going to have days where you're not at your best and you're going to lose some. You're going to get humbled. It's just about coming back to work, having a great attitude and having our mindset on what we have to do this week to beat Dallas."

Defensively, the Giants will be without Jason Pierre-Paul, who underwent surgery this week to repair a core muscle injury. The other starters – Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Hankins, and those expected to fill in for JPP – Kerry Wynn, Romeo Okwara, and Owa Odighizuwa – will be counted on to stop a Cowboys offense that has prospered all season.

Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. MVP candidate Ezekiel Elliott, another first-year player, leads the NFL in rushing by a substantial margin with 1,285 yards. Twelve of his 13 touchdown have come on the ground. Wide receiver Dez Bryant is averaging 17.1 yards a catch, and tight end Jason Witten has 197 career catches and 13 touchdowns against the Giants.

"They have a lot of weapons," Vernon said. "They can run the ball and pass the ball. They have an elusive quarterback. He's very calm, cool and collected. We just have to bring our 'A' game. Bring our 'A' game and focus on Giants football."

Wow, it doesn't get any bigger than this, does it?

"Yes, it does," linebacker Keenan Robinson said. "The Super Bowl or division playoffs. At this point in the year, I guess not. Every game is big for us. We just look at one game at a time. The next opponent is the biggest challenge. They're the biggest obstacle facing us at the moment in order for us to get to where we want to get to, which is playoffs."

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