EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., OCT. 10 -- Until the strike, the Washington Redskins were so looking forward to this game against the New York Giants. It was their chance for revenge, their chance to prove they belonged, their chance to show they could block Lawrence Taylor, slow down Joe Morris, stop Phil Simms.

Now, it's nothing more than another game of the replacement season, a game that will mean something in the standings but will hold little value inside Redskins hearts.

Certainly, there will be little value to either team at the gate.

About 25,000 are expected at normally sold-out Giants Stadium; 28,000 tickets were returned earlier in the week.

The 4 p.m. game between the Redskins (2-1) and Giants (0-3) once was the focal point of Washington's season. Now, it's simply another stop along a road changed by the strike. Last week, the players' strike made a wonderful story out of the nonunion game between the underdog Redskins and the well-stocked St. Louis Cardinals. This Sunday, the strike has ripped to shreds one of the great early season matchups in the National Football League.

"It's no longer the Redskins against the Giants, at least as the fans know it," said Washington nonunion free safety Skip Lane. "It's more like us against them."

Based on what happened last week, one has to consider the replacement Redskins the favorites Sunday, because not one player from either team has defied striking teammates and gone back to work. Washington played perhaps the best game of the nonunion day last week in beating St. Louis, 28-21. The following day, on Monday night, the Giants were beaten so easily by San Francisco, 41-21, that losing Coach Bill Parcells was seen walking off the field laughing.

With Jay Schroeder, Joe Jacoby, Jim Burt, Mark Bavaro and the rest confined to their living rooms, perhaps the most significant legacy left by their replacements will be in the NFC East standings. If the Redskins win, they will open a three-game bulge between themselves and the Giants. If the Giants are 0-4, they will need to win most, if not all, their remaining 11 games to repeat as division champions, although no one is counting them out of the playoffs just yet.

It would be easy for New York fans to blame the replacements for their predicament, but that's not totally fair. The striking Giants lost the first two games on their own.

"Our situation is tough," Parcells said. "We already have three conference losses and one division loss at home . . . Facing the prospect of whenever this strike is over of having to win 10 or 11 straight games to get into the playoffs makes it rough."

The way the Giants went about collecting themselves a new team is an odd side of the strike. While others, like the Redskins, buckled down and put together a respectable football team, the Giants dragged their feet. Only when the strike was upon them did the world champions begin to act, and the results were predictable. For last week's games, the Redskins had 23 players with some NFL experience. The Giants had three.

"It's my fault we don't have a better replacement team," said Giants General Manager George Young. "Last year I was a little smarter, this year I'm dumber. But I thought it was more important getting ready for the Bears {the opening game} instead of becoming the world champion of replacement teams."

Scrambling to sign better talent, the Giants obtained six new players Thursday, and five of them, including two offensive linemen, are expected to start.

The Redskins, who are as settled as any replacement team, also added some new defensive players. Coach Joe Gibbs said he wasn't happy with his run defense (the Redskins gave up 167 yards on the ground to St. Louis), so he signed defensive linemen Kit Lathrop and Curtis McGriff, who played with the Giants for eight seasons before being cut this summer. McGriff would not discuss why he returned to the game to play for a nonunion team, especially in the faces of his old teammates.

Free safety Steve Gage, Washington's sixth-round draft choice this spring, returned Thursday and will back up Lane and play nickel situations. The Redskins like Gage so much they expect to keep him once the strike is over and roster sizes increase.

Because of the extended duration of this strike, Washington fans actually are getting to know some of the nonunion Redskins. With knowledge comes expectation. If quarterback Ed Rubbert doesn't play well Sunday, or if he doesn't complete a long pass or two to record-holding wide receiver Anthony Allen, his play will be questioned. He does not want that to happen, not here.

Rubbert is from New City, N.Y., a suburban area. He grew up a Giants fan, and was one until about three months ago, when he went to the Redskins' training camp. He watched all three of those Giants victories over Washington last season. He enjoyed them all.

"It's ironic," he said. "Things have changed."

Punt returner Derrick Shepard, another of the recognizable replacements, will not play due to bruised ribs. He had a 73-yard return last week. Ted Wilson, the team's 10th-round draft choice, will return punts as he did in preseason. Strong safety Charles Jackson has a bruised calf and will be replaced by Joe Cofer.