And the first two were split, with each team winning in the other’s home park.
Many are lauding this Eagles team and comparing them to the 2007 Giants, a team that caught fire in Week 16 and rode that wave to a Super Bowl victory over the then 18-0 New England Patriots.
The comparisons fall short on most categories but one: defense. The Eagles defense ranks third in the NFL, and it was the Giants defense, and in particular its ferocious line, that propelled them to the championship.
Aside from that, the Giants were 7-1 on the road, winning every game after their opening day loss at Dallas; the Eagles were 3-4-1, with a tie vs. the Bengals. The Giants featured three new offensive play makers after Week 15, all rookies – Bradshaw, Smith and Boss, who all played major roles in the run; the Eagles don’t have anyone new, etc.
But this Eagles team is feisty, and has shown tremendous resiliency after benching QB Donovan McNabb in a blowout loss to the Ravens.
So in this third match-up, similar to the Ali vs. Frazier battles, Frazier being from Philly, Ali calling NY home, how will things play out in this deciding match?
When Philly has the ball, look for them to use the short pass to set-up the run. Westbrook, one of the leagues true game breakers, has struggled of late running the ball, mostly due to injuries and opposing defense’s keying on him, and this has actually opened up a few opportunities for RB Buckhalter.
And the Giants will once again make stopping Westbrook – a notorious Giants’ killer, their top objective, and use a safety close to the line to make sure this happens. The Giants are hoping that by stopping the running game, this will force Reid into abandoning the run and putting the football squarely in McNabb’s hands.
There was a telling stat line in McNabb’s game last Sunday vs. the Vikings. When the Vikings sent only four guys after him, he lit them up for 200+ yards and 1TD, while completing 14 of his 16 passes. When the Vikings blitzed him, he threw for a little over 100 yards and 1INT, with just 50% of his passes being complete.
So it’s imperative that NY gets after him, and DC Steve Spagnuolo is one of the best in the business at bringing pressure. The Eagles will counter this with quick strikes to the receivers, and look for McNabb to target his TE Celek and WR Avant over the middle to pick up 1st downs and extend drives.
And if the opportunity presents itself, although there’s a good chance that there will be few of them because of the weather, look for McNabb to try and go deep to WR DeSean Jackson.
When the Giants have the football, they’ll have a healthy RB Brandon Jacobs back there, something they didn’t have in their 20-14 loss in December. And NY will look to pound the rock; first with Jacobs, then with Ward, and if they have a lead in the 4th quarter, you might see Bradshaw and his fresh legs take some shots at this defense.
And they’re going to have to; the Eagles defense is playing lights out and are very dangerous when given the lead thanks to DC Johnson’s pressure packages.
But NY has shown that they’re able to pound the ball against Philly before; they ran for over 200 yards in their first meeting and were on pace for over 100 in the second, but Jacobs was forced out early in the 3rd with a knee injury.
If they can take control of the line of scrimmage and wear down this Eagles’ front seven, it will open up opportunities in the passing game for Manning to hit his receivers – Toomer, Smith, Boss and Hixon – on short pass to keep drives going and keep the clock moving.
And when the Eagles’ DB’s move into press coverage, look for Eli to go up top to Hixon. But this time, look for Domenik to hang on (he dropped a wide open 85- yard TD pass last time).
As this game comes to a close, we see the Giants pulling out a close 17-13 or 21-17 victory.
The Eagles are more than capable of winning on Sunday, but there were so many factors that played into the outcome from last game, that with a healthy, rested squad, we see the champs prevailing.
So the Giants will move on and host the NFC Championship Game for the right to play in the Super Bowl, while the Eagles will see their up and down season come to an end. But not before the late season run which ensured that both McNabb and Reid will be back in Philly in 2009.