- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Monday night's game in Washington won't be just another divisional matchup for the Giants.
"The stage has been set," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "Every game is extremely important. This is the most important game we've played all year long this Monday night."
The showdown will go a long way in determining which team is going to walk away with the NFC East. With a win, the Giants could sweep the Redskins and put themselves three games up in the division with just four remaining. A loss opens up the division.
"We are looking at this as this is the biggest game of the year right now," Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. "We are still taking it one game at at time, and we got to grind through it and expect big things."
With a two-game lead on Washington and Dallas, the Giants can put Washington behind them by sweeping their NFC East rivals. If Dallas loses to Philadelphia, the Giants would then be up three games on both opponents entering the final four games. Even if the Cowboys win, the Giants would still be up two games on them.
Things would become dicey for the Giants with a loss, as they face a tough schedule to end the year. If the Redskins and Cowboys win, the Giants are suddenly just a game up in the division and will have to likely pull off some road upsets to secure their road to the playoffs.
In the final four weeks, the Giants host New Orleans and Philadelphia and travel to playoff-bound Atlanta and Baltimore. Washington's only game left against a team currently projected for the playoffs is a home game against Baltimore, while Dallas' only one is a home game against Pittsburgh.
"For both teams it's a very big game. It’s a divisional game," Coughlin said. "It's at this point of the year they're coming off two divisional wins. We're anxious to get back into the division, hopefully, to do well, but it's a very important game for both teams."
The Giants have notoriously made things tough on themselves in the second halves of seasons, including last year's loss to Washington before going on their Super Bowl run. While they're just 1-2 in the second half this year, wide receiver Victor Cruz sees a difference in the Giants as the season nears its end.
"I just see a different energy. I feel like we're a different team right now, as opposed to last year where we found our stride when our backs were really against the wall," Cruz said. "I feel like we're finding our stride now and luckily we're at a good point in the division and we have a pretty solid record right now, and we can only go up from here. We just got to keep our foot on the gas."
3dDan Graziano and Adam Caplan