THEY'RE THE TEAM the New York Giants least wanted to face. But if the Giants are to repeat as Super Bowl champions, they must first find a way past the Philadelphia Eagles.
I’m sure most Giants fans were rooting for a Minnesota Vikings victory on Sunday so Big Blue could avoid playing the Green Machine and a divisional rival in their first post-season game.
In truth, it was never going to happen. Despite keeping it close for the first three quarters, the Vikings were overmatched, especially at quarterback. Donovan McNabb v Tarvaris Jackson was no contest.
With seven minutes remaining, Brian Westbrook took a screen pass from McNabb and zigzagged 71 yards for a touchdown. It was Westbrook’s first significant contribution of the game. It was also decisive.
It means that this Sunday (1pm), Andy Reid’s Eagles will visit the Meadowlands for the second time in little more than a month.
And we all know what happened the last time they were in New Jersey on December 7. They outplayed the Giants for much of the game and were far from flattered by their 20-14 victory.
In the Giants’ favor, they have home advantage and an extra week’s rest. But momentum plays a huge part in sports and that’s definitely with the Eagles.
Since McNabb was benched at halftime in a 36-7 mauling in Baltimore, the Eagles have won five of their last six games.
In-form Eagles pose a major threat
They’re the form team in the NFL. McNabb is playing with confidence while Westbrook has often been a thorn in the Giants’ side.
In contrast, the Giants have lost a little of their aura since the Plaxico Burress shooting incident, as well as three of their last four games.
At one point in the season, they looked invincible. No longer. Now the $64,000 question is can they regain that momentum?
“I think the Eagles are the hottest team in the NFL right now,” concedes Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “They may be the sixth seed but they sure aren’t playing like it.
“We know them well, which is a good thing, but they know us too. I’m glad this game is going to be at home because I know our fans will be into it. It’s going to be the tough NFC battle you’d expect, and we are really looking forward to it.”
The Giants and Eagles have met three times before in the post-season. The Giants lead 2-1 but lost their last meeting in Philadelphia two years ago when a 38-yard field goal from David Akers gave the Eagles a 23-20 victory.
It’s 1-1 this season, the Giants winning 36-31 in Philly in November before losing the rematch.
History, both ancient and recent, suggests it’s going to be close. Much of the pre-game focus will no doubt be on the match-up between McNabb and Eli Manning.
But, for me, the key is going to be how long the Giants can maintain possession and how Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw run the ball.
If they have to rely too much on the pass, then the Eagles could well take another step toward emulating another team from the City of Brotherly Love – the baseball World Series-winning Phillies.