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this week's game

Giants-Redskins Preview: Run, Brandon, Run!

Two years ago, the Giants started 0–2 and won the Super Bowl. Last year, they started 11–1 and then lost in the first round of the playoffs. We're pretty sure these things aren't related, except to say this: The Giants team you see on Sunday isn't likely to play the same way as the one you see in Week 17 (and, one would hope, beyond). This is a good thing, because the Giants start the season with their biggest weakness in a long time: the lack of a passing game.

Plaxico Burress was the perfect receiver for Eli Manning in that he was tall enough to get to all those balls that weren't quite where Eli meant to put them. The good news is that this team has played well over the last couple of years, after putting drama behind them, as evidenced by Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey leaving for morning television and the injured list, respectively. The bad news is that Eli's main target is now ... well, we'll find out eventually. Maybe it's fourth- third-down specialist Steve Smith or return-man Dominick Hixon. Or better still, maybe it will prove to be rookie Hakeem Nicks. But regardless, with two-thirds of their top-ranked Earth, Wind, and Fire running game returning, this season will hinge on Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

This Sunday would appear to be something of a trap game for Big Blue. In a tough NFC East, the Redskins pose the smallest threat. But Washington's defense — led (they hope) by newcomer Albert Haynesworth — is stellar and knows what to expect. Not only will they stack the box to prevent the run, but they'll be coming after Eli Manning — an immediate test for the Giants's heralded offensive line. But for all the attention being paid to the Giants passing game and how it will impact every aspect of their offense, let's not overlook that their defense is still terrific. Their biggest defensive loss was an off-the-field one (in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo), and they bring Osi Umenyiora back to a defense that was ranked fifth overall without him. But at the end of the day, yeah, it'll be the running game that wins or loses this game, and probably a lot of others. But if Jacobs and Bradshaw can run the ball when the passing game's at square one, against a team that's fully prepared for them, well, that would be a good start indeed.

Photo: Getty Images