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Players to Watch: Pro Bowlers lead the way

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The Giants (8-5-1) face another tough matchup this weekend as they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings (11-3) on Saturday.

Brian Daboll's squad wrapped up their four-game stretch against NFC East opponents with a key win over the Commanders. On the other sideline, the Vikings mounted the largest comeback in NFL history, overcoming a 33-point second-half deficit to beat the Colts in overtime, 39-36. The win secured the NFC North title for Minnesota, their first time winning the division since 2017.

The Giants received some big news Wednesday night, as it was announced that running back Saquon Barkley and defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence were named starters for the Pro Bowl. It is the second-time Barkley has earned the honor, and the first for Lawrence.

"It's an honor for sure," said Lawrence. "The respect you've earned around the league, and then the support from the fans, things like that. So, it was a big honor."

Here are five players to watch in the Christmas Eve game:

RB Saquon Barkley

Barkley broke out of a small funk with his performance against the Commanders on Sunday night. After totaling 152 yards on the ground over the past four games, Barkley gained 87 yards on 18 carries (4.8 avg.) and added five receptions for 33 yards. He also found the end zone for the ninth time this year. Barkley is up to 1,170 yards rushing and 1,464 total yards from scrimmage, both of which rank fourth among all running backs.

Barkley seemed to save his best for when it mattered most against Washington. The fifth-year running back broke out runs of 12, 15 and 14 yards to open up the team's final scoring drive, which brought the ball into Commanders territory. Barkley had 60 total yards in the fourth quarter alone, helping the Giants clinch the victory.

"Saquon, he played hard," said offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. "He did a nice job and I think those are all things we can learn from and grow from. I hate living in the past on that type of stuff, but he did a really nice job and gave us an opportunity to win the game. We've got to find a way to get back to that again this week and have another good week of practice."

The Vikings have the league's 18th-ranked run defense, allowing an average of 120.4 rushing yards per game. However, the unit has surrendered 14 touchdowns on the ground, tied for 14th-highest in the league.

WR Darius Slayton

Slayton is the Giants' leading receiver this season. The fourth-year wide out has totaled 631 yards and two touchdowns on 40 receptions, an even more impressive feat considering he entered Week 5 with only one reception for 11 yards. Over the past two games, Slayton has finished with 23 and 42 yards, respectively, which snapped a six-game streak in which he had at least 58 receiving yards.

The Vikings' defense has struggled this season, as the unit ranks 28th in points and 32nd in yards allowed. However, the real Achilles heal appears to be in the passing game. Minnesota enters this matchup with the league's 31st passing defense, allowing 278.8 yards through the air per game. While they held the Colts to just 170 passing yards last week, each of their previous five opponents topped 300 passing yards.

DL Dexter Lawrence

Lawrence is in the midst of a breakout season. The 25-year-old defensive lineman has a team-best and career-high 6.5 sacks, just 3.5 fewer than he had in his first three seasons combined. His 57 total tackles and 24 quarterback hits are also new career marks, along with his two forced fumbles. The 24 QB hits are 13 more than anyone else on the team (Kayvon Thibodeaux is second with 11).

"I think I'm having a solid season," Lawrence told the media Thursday. "There's plays I wish I had back, opportunities I wish I would've finished, on a couple more plays. Overall, I think I've been solid. I've been trying to improve every week, and just trying to win. Honestly, I don't care really what my numbers say or anything like that. I just want to win for my brothers."

Lawrence seemed to benefit from the return of fellow defensive lineman Leonard Williams last week. Williams missed Week 14 due to a neck injury, and with him back in the lineup against the Commanders, Lawrence registered a half-sack, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble.

"If Leo's not out there, there's four hands going on Dex all the time," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said this week. "Now, they got to deal with Leo on the other side being a single block guy. I think that creates issues… When Dex and Leo are playing together, you can see they have fun playing together. And it's fun to watch."

View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings

OLB Azeez Ojulari

After being sidelined for just over two months, Ojulari returned to the field in Week 13 and instantly provided a jolt to the pass rush. The second-year outside linebacker has picked up 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and two forced fumbles in his three games since coming back from a calf injury. It's no coincidence that over the same stretch, the defense has registered 12 sacks.

Although it may come as a surprise, Sunday night's game against the Commanders was the first time Ojulari, Lawrence, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Leonard Williams played an entire game together. The foursome combined for two sacks, six quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

The Vikings come into this game having allowed the league's sixth-most sacks (41) and just allowed Kirk Cousins to get sacked a whopping seven times last week. In fact, it was the second time this season Cousins has been sacked seven times in a game. The Vikings have surrendered at least three sacks in seven different games this year.

CB Fabian Moreau

Moreau has played a crucial role for the defense since being signed to the active roster ahead of their Week 4 win against the Bears. Since that game, the veteran cornerback has played at least 72 percent of the team's defensive snaps in nine of his last 10 games (he missed Week 12 vs. Dallas with an oblique injury). With Adoree' Jackson sidelined since Week 11, Moreau has stepped up and taken on the role of the team's No. 1 corner.

Jackson was ruled out of this weekend's matchup on Thursday, meaning Moreau will once again lead the team's cornerback group. That responsibility comes with a tough challenge, as the Vikings boast a very talented wide receiver core led by the amazing Justin Jefferson. The third-year wide receiver leads the NFL with 111 receptions for 1,623 yards. This comes after being named second-team All-Pro and making the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.

Joining Jefferson in Minnesota's wide receiver room is long-time veteran Adam Thielen. The 32-year-old has caught 66 passes for 686 yards and five touchdowns this season. K.J. Osborn ranks third on the team with his 45 receptions for 457 yards and four touchdowns. Osborn is coming off an impressive 10-catch, 157-yard outing against the Colts, a game that saw him score a touchdown for the second consecutive game.

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