2008 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round: Eagles at Giants

Philadelphia Eagles (10-6-1) at NY Giants (12-4), Saturday 1 p.m. ET (Fox) Broadcasting Team: Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

The Birds will head 90 miles up the New Jersey Turnpike to face the NFC #1 seed Giants in the highlight game of the four divisional round games.  Since a 5-5-1 start, the Eagles have rattled off 5 wins out of 6 games including a solid win over the Vikings in the wildcard round.  The Eagles are the hottest team in the NFL playoffs that everyone is trying to avoid them, so naturally in the eyes of some they can easily draw comparison to the “2007 Giants”. But the comparison to last season’s wildcard to Super Bowl champion Giants has rankled some like linebacker Antonio Pierce as he basically said “prove it” to the Eagles with some recent quotes.  Pierce said of Eagles comparisons to last season’s Giants, “I won’t know anything about any team until February 1st or 2nd, so you can’t call any team the NY Giants of 2007, because that team won the Super Bowl.”  The loquacious linebacker added, “The psyche of the team this year is a group that understands what it takes to win the championship”.

These two bitter NFC East rivals and their neighboring fans are ready for the “rubber match” of this highly entertaining three-game set.  So far each team has taken home a victory with the road team winning each game — the Giants won 36-31 in Philadelphia in Week 10, and the Eagles won 20-14 at Giants Stadium in Week 14.  This will be the eighth meeting between the longtime foes in three years, so expect this game to come down to game planning, execution, turnovers and special teams.  Both earlier games were slugfests that featured typical NFC East black-and-blue action with the team that ran the ball for the most yards in each meeting winning.  The Giants had 217 rushing yards in Week 10 and the Eagles in Week 14 turned the tables running for a season-high 141 yards on 41 carries.  With both teams looking to stop the run their highly ranked defenses (Eagles NFC leading 274.3 yards allowed and Giants 292 yards).

The talk on the radio always seems to be, “Can Donovan McNabb lead the Eagles to victory?”  But the Eagles offensive game plan should be to get the ball in the hands of playmaker Brian Westbrook (121 total yards in last week’s win over the Vikings).  B-West always seems to save his best efforts for the Giants, but the Eagles need balance to help him so running mate Correll Buckhalter (only 2 carries for 27 yards vs. Vikings) must also get the ball into his hands early and often.  Westbrook showed his explosiveness last week in taking a short screen pass 71 yards to the ‘House as the Eagles sealed the deal against the Vikings.  However I know Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (former Eagles LB’s coach) is probably studying right not trying how to limit Westbrook.  If Spags is smart he will look to have someone else shadow Westbrook other than overmatched linebacker Antonio Pierce – beat for two touchdowns in the last time in the Meadowlands.

The Eagles may go about running the ball with the speedy Westbrook, but the Giants choose to go at defenses with “Earth, Wind, and Fire” 1-2-3 punch of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.  The Giants’ three-headed monster is only as good as their cohesive offensive line, which has over 25 consecutive starts together.  Led by Pro Bowl O-lineman Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee, the Giants’ Jacobs (rushed 22 times for 126 yards in the Giants’ win) and the rest of EWF are ready to pound on the Eagles again.  The scary thing is that the Giants behind 217 combined rushing yards from their backfield trio held the ball for 39:10 in winning the first regular-season meeting. However lately the Eagles defense has been stifling.  The quick undersized unit finished the regular season with the league’s No. 4 run defense (92.2 yards) and they basically kept Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in check (83 yards, but 40 yards came on one run).

The Philadelphia Eagles will aim to qualify for the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in the past 10 seasons, since Andy Reid became head coach in 1999.

Other Keys to watch

— A rejuvenated Brian Dawkins in the box against Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw

— Receivers Dommanick Hixon (dropped a potential 80-yard bomb last time in Week 14 against the Birds) and Amani Toomer trying to replace Plaxico Burress against an Eagles’ secondary that doesn’t respect them

— Special Teams should be huge in this game so watch to see if David Akers () can come through in the windy Meadowlands and rookie DeSean Jackson can hit a big one on a punt return.  The Giants greybeard Pro Bowl crew of K John Carney and P Jeff Feagles will also be a factor.

— QB Donovan McNabb will need to avoid Justin Tuck (GMen are 13-3 when he gets a sack) and the Giants pass rush.  McNabb has avoided sacks this year in his two prior games against the Giants after the Birds laughingstock 12 sack game last year.

— QB Eli Manning will need to make some more timely throws after only managing only 123 passing yards in the Eagles earlier win.  Manning will have to keep an eye on Pro Bowl corner Asante Samuel (NFL record 4 career touchdown interception returns) and the blitzing schemes of Eagles mad scientist defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.

LV‘s Pick:  I have wrestled back and forth on making this pick, but in the end I just can’t see the Giants losing twice at home to the same team.  Remember the Giants were 7-1 at home and they are the defending Super Bowl champs.  Giants win 20-17 over the Eagles in a very close game.

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