Hakeem Nicks was downgraded. The Giants would like to avoid the same fate.

Playing some of their sharpest football in recent years over the last six quarters of action, the Giants will face the Eagles Sunday night and attempt to keep the momentum that they first grabbed in the second half of their Week 2 game against the Bucs and maintained throughout last week's win over the Panthers. Like last week, though, they'll have to do it without Hakeem Nicks. The Giants' top receiver had his status changed from doubtful to out Saturday as the team boarded a train to Philadelphia for the big NFC East showdown.

"It's always disappointing [when Nicks is out]," fellow receiver Victor Cruz said on Friday. "You always want your counterpart in there with you in the trenches with you playing against a division foe. But it's something that we have to deal with in this league. Guys get injured, guys get nicked up, we just have to understand we've been here before and guys have stepped up. So we're going to need that again this upcoming week."

When the week began the Giants and Eagles seemed to be two teams with identical 2-1 records but different trajectories. The Giants were still soaring from their win in Carolina while the Eagles were coming off a bad loss to the Cardinals after two shaky one-point wins in the first two weeks and there was even a few hours when Michael Vick's job seemed to be in jeopardy.

But as the week evolved, those vibes seemed to flip-flop. The Giants had some injuries pop up. Safety Antrel Rolle, who rarely misses a practice, sat out with a left knee injury. While he is expected to play Sunday he may not be at full capacity. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw returned from a neck injury, but with a passing warning that any hit could send him back to the sideline with a reoccurrence of an inflamed disc. Nicks' left knee became an issue on Thursday. The Eagles, meanwhile, are getting healthier and hardier. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin returned from missing last week's game with a hip injury and Vick's status as the starter was reaffirmed.

By the time the teams take the field, though, all of that will be in the past and out of mind. The winner will have the upper hand in the division standings, something the Giants cannot afford to let get too far away. They are already 0-1 in the NFC East. Under coach Tom Coughlin, they have never been 0-2 in the division.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"It's big, it's huge," Osi Umenyiora said of the game. "Obviously, there's a lot of animosity between the two teams because of the way some of the games have turned out and they're a good team. They're desperate for a win right now. Obviously we're desperate for a win ourselves, so it's going to be a great game."

Bradshaw called the twice-annual meetings with the Eagles a "backyard brawl."

"That's just how we take it," Bradshaw said. "All week, just getting prepared, knowing that they have great athletes on their team and at any time they could be playing great football."

The Giants head into the game playing great football themselves, and knowing that only one team will be able to make that claim after the game.