Had there been no strike, the Washington Redskins probably would have entered this week, the week they play the New York Giants, with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. But, because of the strike, everything has changed.

The nonunion Redskins, considered one of the better replacement teams in the league, watched the Monday night football game this week. They saw the Giants lose to the San Francisco 49ers, 41-21, to fall to 0-3. The Redskins' coaches and some of their players, union and nonunion, are hesitant to say anything bad about an opponent, but it appears they finally have found something to like about the strike.

It's widely believed the replacement Redskins would fare better against the replacement Giants than the regular Redskins would against the regular Giants. "If you consider what happened last year, you'd think that way," Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday.

The Giants defeated the Redskins three times last season, the last in the NFC championship game. The game scheduled for Sunday at 4 p.m. was going to be the Redskins' chance for revenge. Now it simply looks like the Redskins' chance to put the Giants three games behind them.

Gibbs won't say which team he would rather play the Giants with, but he did say he would rather not have his regular players return late in the week. If the strike ends later this week, it's felt the striking players would come to work immediately and play Sunday. Gibbs said that would be "a mess."

"As a coach, you would not want to go to Thursday or Friday {to begin practicing}," Gibbs said. "I'm glad the deadline {for players to report and be eligible} is Wednesday. I think {beginning late in the week} would be pretty much impossible. I don't think that's practical. . . . I don't think you could play a real good game if you brought them in on Friday. But if the powers that be determine we would do that, we'd do it."

The Redskins are preparing for a nonunion game this week, although they do have a game plan ready for the regular Giants, which was completed in training camp. To show how serious they are about their nonunion team, they signed two new players yesterday: defensive end Kit Lathrop and running back Wayne Wilson.

Lathrop was a free agent with Philadelphia, Detroit, Denver, Green Bay and Kansas City, as well as a member of several U.S. Football League teams. Wilson played for New Orleans for 7 1/2 years, gaining 2,476 yards rushing and 1,517 yards receiving. He also returned 109 kickoffs for a 22.8-yard average. Wilson played for Minnesota last season as well, then was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Raiders, who released him this summer.

While the Redskins solidified their position for Sunday, the Giants were involved in a bit of intrigue. Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, defensive end Leonard Marshall and reserve quarterback Jeff Hostetler arrived at Giants Stadium yesterday and stayed for at least two hours before leaving and not returning. Observers said they thought the three players were planning to cross the picket line and practice. None of the players commented on their action, but Gibbs did: "I'm certainly glad that {Taylor and Marshall} didn't walk in."

Giants Coach Bill Parcells lamented the fact that this Giants-Redskins game will not be like the last three.

"The Giants-Redskins rivalry was so good," Parcells said. "It was what I think pro football should be all about, the physicalness of the game. It's just a shame that we're going to miss one of those games this year."

"Obviously, it's very different for all of us," Gibbs said. "He has a different team. I have a different team. But I'm not going to worry about what's there, because it's not there."

Yesterday morning, the striking Washington quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, linebackers and defensive backs practiced their seven-on-seven drills.

Yesterday afternoon, the nonunion Redskins practiced and talked about what they saw Monday night, about getting tickets for family and friends, about winning a second consecutive game.

"I'm sure the striking players would much rather beat the Giants than we would," said H-back Craig McEwen, "but we do want to win."

Middle linebacker and player representative Neal Olkewicz called it "ironic" that the long-awaited Washington-New York grudge match would be played with players who were watching last year's three games on television.

"Who knows?" he said. "Maybe they can reschedule it for the end of the year. We sure would like to play them two times."

Redskins Notes: Olkewicz canceled a team meeting yesterday because he said he didn't have much to tell the players. The team still is solidly behind the strike, he said . . . The Redskins released five replacement players: quarterback Kevin Sisk, wide receivers Carl Williams and Richard Johnson and running backs Thomas Dendy and Ricky Jemison.