The feud between New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman threatens to overwhelm what is a critical early-season game in the NFC East.
A division that the Redskins won with just a 9-7 record last season appears there for the taking for the Giants. New York is off to a 2-0 start and already owns a win over the Cowboys in Dallas. A Giants victory over Washington on Sunday (1 p.m. EDT) at MetLife Stadium would add a second division win and put the Redskins (0-2) in an awful position three weeks into the season.
"We look at it, 'Hey, it's the next game,'" Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "We're worried about our season and what we've got to do, and it's a chance for us to go 3-0, and that's all we are concerned with."
Neither team wants to let Beckham-Norman drama overshadow the contest, though it figures to occur anyway.
By the end of the Dec. 20, 2015, game in New York against the Carolina Panthers, Norman's former team, Beckham had been whistled for three personal-foul penalties, including one after he got a 10-yard running start and smashed into Norman's helmet.
For his part, Norman was fined more than $26,000 and was called for two personal fouls. The Giants also maintained that Carolina players waved a bat at them before the game and hurled homosexual slurs at Beckham. Norman later denied that happened, but there was enough ugliness that day to go around.
"I am looking forward to playing the New York Giants, man," Norman said. "A lot has been said from this week all the way up since last time we played each other, so I'm sure they're going to be ready just as much as we are. Shoot, seems Sunday can't get here fast enough."
The Redskins are bordering on desperate. They were blown out by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opener at home and were left seething after a close loss to the Cowboys on Sunday. Washington's schedule only gets tougher in November and December, so the Redskins can't afford a slow start. Winning in New York is never an easy task, though. The Redskins have lost four in a row and seven of eight on the road against the Giants.
The injury list is growing quickly for Washington, too. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson (knee/ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday. Left tackle Trent Williams (right knee), defensive end Chris Baker (rib/elbow/knee/toe) and rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson (left Achilles tendon) were all limited.
New York is worried about starting right guard Marshall Newhouse (calf) -- who plays a position at which the team possesses limited depth -- and running back Rashad Jennings (thumb). The running game was ineffective in the Giants' ugly 16-13 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The Giants did not score an offensive touchdown.
Another concern for New York? Three lost fumbles. The Giants can't afford to give Washington's offense that many chances.
"Putting the ball on the ground three times is not something we want make a trend or something that we want to continue doing," Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "So we want to make sure that we pay attention to detail, pay attention to the little things. Ball security is definitely one of those little things that we need to clean up a little bit."
The Giants' defense has been solid against the run this season, but it is unclear how much Washington will employ running back Matt Jones and company this weekend.
The Redskins profess to want to find a balance between the running and passing game, but they have thrown the ball 89 times and run it just 29 through two games. Some of that is because Washington fell behind early in the second half to the Steelers, but some of it is just not being able to move the ball on the ground and having so many weapons at wide receiver and tight end.
"We're not happy with the run-pass balance," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "Based on the numbers, we're obviously not a run-first team. I'd be standing up here looking like a fool if I said we're a 'pound the rock' type team right now. First two games, the proof is in the pudding, the numbers."