EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Metropolitan area NFL fans who support one of the local teams will get their quadrennial treat on Sunday, when the Giants host the Jets in MetLife Stadium.
But for the competing players and coaches, far more will be at stake than the right to end any argument about which team is better simply by reciting the final score. The Giants are 5-6, tied with Washington atop the NFC East, and in a five-game fight to the finish that will determine what is likely to be the division's lone postseason berth. The Jets have a slightly better record at 6-5, but will rejoin the AFC East title chase only if New England has an epic collapse. They are four games behind the Patriots, but very much in contention to be playoff participants as a wild card.
With so much at stake, the extracurricular verbal skirmishes that make the game so much fun for the teams' fans don't even appear on the radar of those whose fates will be determined in large measure by what happens on the field.
"It's December in the National Football League, and both teams have opportunities," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Because of that, it's a big game, there's no way around it. It's an important football game for both teams."
"It's a big game for both teams, and I think that's how we look at it," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "It's probably not as big of a rivalry as you think; we only play every four years. A lot of these guys have never played them. You see each other in preseason. So I think we're just worried about, it's a game that's important for our season, and the possible outcome and looking at it that way."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants face the New York Jets Sunday
For the Giants, how they play is a larger concern than who they play.
"I think we're going to bounce back and play a much better, complete football game than we did last weekend," Coughlin said.
They have to for a chance to win the game. The Giants came out flat in Washington, turning over the ball on their first two possessions and failing to score until the fourth quarter, when they trailed, 20-0. Coughlin this week told the players he expects more from them – "they've got to extend themselves this time of year," is how he put it in a news conference. He can implore them to play better for hours on end, but it's up to the players to take ownership of the game and execute.
"It's just about not doing the talk, but actually making it happen," Manning said. "And taking that extra effort to make sure you have the game plan, you have your assignments, you have everything down so you can go out there and practice fast, play fast on game day. So it's just making that total commitment to knowing what your assignments are."
The Giants face formidable challenges on both sides of the ball. Their offense must confront a Jets defense that has been the best in the NFL against the run, allowing only 84.4 yards on the ground. The Giants rushed for just 33 yards last week in Washington. The Jets are third in total defense (allowing 323.9 yards a game) and have the league's stingiest unit in the red zone, giving up touchdowns on just 38.5 percent (10 of 26) of their opponents' forays inside the 20-yard line.
The strength of the defense is up front, where linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, plus linebacker David Harris, have stifled the efforts of numerous opponents.
"They're an overall great defensive line," said rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers. "We played against some good defensive lines, like Buffalo. It's not (that we're) so concerned, it's more about making sure we do what we have to do. Taking care of our task. It's a great task ahead of us, and we're excited to get to it."
In the back of their defense, the Jets will be without star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is sidelined with a concussion. His backup, Marcus Williams, is doubtful with a knee injury.
"They're a pretty good defense," offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said. "They rely on the rush a lot. They have been getting home quite a bit, whether they've been rushing quarterbacks to throw it or with the sacks, but the pressure, it all counts. They have some talented DBs over there in their secondary."
The Jets' offense has run the ball consistently well (Chris Ivory has rushed for 766 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing a game), protects quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (who's been sacked 11 times, the lowest total among regular starting quarterbacks), and has two big-play receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker (17 combined touchdowns).
"(Ivory is) really good," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "I was with him in New Orleans for a year. And he's a real competitive guy that loves football, and you can see that when he plays. He's a violent runner and when he gets to the edge, he's scary. We talked a lot about that. But build a wall, set the edge, try to track the hip when he cuts it back, but he's going to be a challenge for us."
So is covering Marshall, a responsibility that will fall to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
"I do think both Prince and DRC are competitive guys, and somewhere in the game they're going to find themselves covering a pretty good threat," Spagnuolo said. "We talked earlier in the week: 'Do we want to match (one of them on Marshall, or keep them on the side where they normally line up)? Do we want to do that?' I'm not going to say what we're doing, but I talk with those guys all the time, to see what their comfort level is, and then we'll usually go with it."
It should be fun to watch, as the Giants and Jets are any time they get together. And this time, the stakes are high for both teams.
"Honestly, it (the rivalry) doesn't matter," said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. "At this point, we're just trying to win the game and go on to the next game and win that one as well. It's just one game, we have to win it, and that's how we're playing it."
"Life is all about opportunities, and how you seize them and make the most of them," wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. "We had an opportunity to do some pretty big things last week, as far as putting ourselves in good position to be where we want to be. It didn't happen, so you move on, you keep going, keep preparing, keep getting better. You still have got five games and you try to win them all."
First, they have to win Sunday.