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Giants vs Eagles Preview

2006/07 NFL Playoffs
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NFL Playoff Preview - N.Y. Giants (8-8) at Philadelphia (10-6)
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(My Sportsbook) - The last time Jeff Garcia faced the New York Giants in a playoff game, the veteran quarterback engineered one of the biggest postseason comebacks the NFL has ever seen. Big Blue hopes history doesn't repeat itself this Sunday, when it visits the surging Philadelphia Eagles in the Wild Card round of the 2006 NFC Playoffs.

It's been four years since Garcia led the San Francisco 49ers to 25 unanswered second-half points and a thrilling 39-38 victory over the Giants, the second- largest rally in NFL playoff history. The 36-year-old hadn't had too many shining moments since that dramatic win, however, and after a pair of lost years in Cleveland and Detroit, Garcia was considered washed up when he signed with the Eagles to serve as Donovan McNabb's backup this past offseason.

Philadelphia was counted out as well less than two months ago. First McNabb suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee during a mid-November loss to Tennessee, then the Eagles were routed at Indianapolis the following week and dropped to 5-6 on the season.

But a rejuvenated Garcia sparked Philly to victories in the final five regular-season games, including huge road wins over division rivals New York and Dallas that catapulted the Eagles to a fifth NFC East title in six years.

Giants fans regard that 2003 classic with the 49ers as more of a monumental collapse than a spectacular comeback. New York was classified a fragile team back then, and hasn't done a whole lot to shake that label in the three years since.

The Giants looked like they would run away with the division crown when the club stood at 6-2 at the midway point of this season. However, New York proceeded to unravel over the second half, losing six of its next seven games and jeopardizing a playoff berth that once seemed a virtual lock.

New York managed to put its infighting and finger-pointing aside in last weekend's regular-season finale, and came through with a 34-28 road win over Washington to earn a spot in the postseason fray.

Retiring running back Tiki Barber, faced with the possibility of playing for the last time, racked up a team-record 234 rushing yards along with three touchdowns to will the Giants to the crucial victory.

New York now has the opportunity to exorcise its recent postseason demons. The Giants have not won a playoff game since their 41-0 triumph over Minnesota in the 2000 NFC Championship, losing three straight postseason outings following that victory. A year ago, the Giants were handed a humbling 23-0 defeat at home to the Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card round.

The Eagles, meanwhile, are 5-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs at home since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 1999. Philadelphia is 6-1 overall under Reid in Wild Card and Divisional games, with the only blemish coming to the Giants in 2000.

SERIES HISTORY

The Giants have won both postseason meetings with the Eagles all-time, taking a 20-10 home decision in a 2000 NFC Divisional Playoff and a 27-21 triumph in a 1981 NFC First-Round Playoff at Veterans Stadium.

The Giants hold a 76-66-2 edge in a regular season series that dates back to the 1933 season, including an unconventional home-and-home split in 2006. New York came back to score a 30-24 overtime victory in Week 2 at Lincoln Financial Field, and dropped a 36-22 home decision to Philly in Week 15. Philadelphia is 0-2 against the Giants at the Linc since last beating them there in 2004.

Reid is 8-9 against New York all-time, including the 2000 playoff loss. The Giants' Tom Coughlin is 5-3 versus Philadelphia, with two of the wins dating back to his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and is 4-3 against Reid in his career.

GIANTS OFFENSE VS. EAGLES DEFENSE

The Giants offense is at its best when Barber (1,662 rushing yards, 5 TD) is picking up chunks of yardage behind a quality offensive line that often doesn't get the credit it deserves, as was the case in last week's big win. New York went 6-2 in the games in which the charismatic back rushed for 100 yards or more this season, and 2-6 when Barber failed to reach that mark. Philadelphia did a good job of keeping the dangerous veteran in check in this year's earlier meetings, as Barber averaged just 63 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry in those two contests. Backup Brandon Jacobs (423 rushing yards, 9 TD) adds a power dimension to New York's seventh-ranked ground attack (134.8 ypg) and is a factor in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

The Eagles have had their struggles defending the run at times during the season, as evidenced by the team's No. 26 overall ranking in rushing yards allowed (136.4 ypg). Philadelphia has shown some improvement in that area during its end-of-the-year run, however, and limited the Giants to 88 yards on the ground during their December meeting. A shaky linebacking corps has been stabilized with the late-season insertion of rookie Omar Gaither (62 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) into the starting lineup on the weak side. Fiery veteran Jeremiah Trotter (112 tackles, 1 INT) is still a formidable presence in the middle, while standout free safety Brian Dawkins (93 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) lends strong support from the backfield.

If New York is to advance, it sorely needs a better performance out of Eli Manning (3,244 passing yards, 24 TD, 18 INT) than the highly-scrutinized quarterback delivered during last year's playoffs. Manning mustered just 113 passing yards and committed four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) in that shutout loss to Carolina. The former No. 1 overall pick did have one of his best games of this season against the Eagles back in Week 2, when he sparked the Giants' rally with a 371-yard, three-touchdown effort. Talented but moody wideout Plaxico Burress (63 receptions, 988 yards, 10 TD) can be a dangerous playmaker in the passing game, and was a difficult matchup for Philly this year. Both of his 100-yard receiving efforts in 2006 came against the Eagles. Manning's other favored target, Jeremy Shockey (66 receptions, 623 yards, 7 TD), is fighting an ankle injury which caused the brash tight end to sit out the Washington game. He's expected to play but could be limited. New York owns the 19th-best passing attack (191.1 ypg) in the NFL, but the unit has been weakened since reliable veteran Amani Toomer suffered a year-ending knee injury at midseason.

The strength of Philadelphia's defense is a secondary that features a pair of Pro Bowlers in Dawkins and cornerback Lito Sheppard (30 tackles, 6 INT, 13 PBU). The Eagles have yielded the ninth-fewest passing yards (191.7 ypg) in the league and have snared 19 interceptions while giving up just 17 touchdowns through the air during the regular season. A contributing factor towards that success has been a healthy pass rush that has produced 40 sacks and took down Manning eight times back in September. Ends Trent Cole (62 tackles, 8 sacks) and Juqua Thomas (25 tackles, 6 sacks) and talented tackle Darwin Walker (36 tackles, 6 sacks) have all been effective at pressuring the quarterback, although Thomas has a calf ailment and is listed as questionable for Sunday.

EAGLES OFFENSE VS. GIANTS DEFENSE

Philadelphia's resurgence would surely not have been possible without the remarkably efficient play of Garcia (1,309 passing yards, 10 TD). The three- time Pro Bowl honoree has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes and tossed just two interceptions in 188 attempts. Most importantly, however, he's displayed invaluable leadership under center and in the huddle. The Eagles love to spread the ball around in Reid's west coast offense, with versatile running back Brian Westbrook (77 receptions, 699 yards, 4 TD) and tight end L.J. Smith (50 receptions, 611 yards, 5 TD) the team's leading receivers. Wideouts Reggie Brown (46 receptions, 816 yards, 8 TD) and Donte' Stallworth (38 receptions, 725 yards, 5 TD) haven't always been consistent, but each do possess game-breaking capabilities. Garcia, who's still pretty mobile despite his advanced age, has only been sacked six times in his six starts behind a stout Philadelphia offensive line. For the year, the Eagles stand third overall with an average of 257.4 passing yards per contest.

The Giants ended the regular season 25th in the NFL in total defense (342.4 ypg) and 28th in passing defense (228.1 ypg), both extremely disappointing rankings which have been influenced by a host of injuries. Star defensive end Michael Strahan is done for the season with a severely sprained right foot, as are two of the team's most athletic defenders in linebacker LaVar Arrington (Achilles) and cornerback Corey Webster (toe). Strahan's loss, as well as the significant time missed by 2005 Pro Bowl end Osi Umenyiora (31 tackles, 6 sacks), has tempered a pass rush that was one of the league's most effective last season. The inconsistent play of veteran cornerbacks Sam Madison (39 tackles, 2 INT) and R.W. McQuarters (56 tackles, 2 INT) hasn't helped matters either.

Philadelphia's impressive average of 381.4 total yards per game, the second- best mark in the NFL, has been aided by a stronger commitment to the run game than most previous years of the Reid regime. The Eagles are 11th overall in rushing yards (124.0 ypg) and boast a terrific dual threat in Westbrook (1,217 yards, 7 TD), who averaged a robust 5.1 yards per carry during the regular season. The 27-year-old has been more of a force in the second half, as four of his six 100-yard rushing efforts have come after the midway point. Correll Buckhalter (345 rushing yards, 256 receiving yards, 3 total TD) has been a solid understudy after missing the previous two seasons with knee problems. The line, anchored by Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews, has been dominating at times and a key factor in the Eagles' offensive prowess.

Stopping the run was a team strength for the Giants early in the season, but that aspect has turned into a concern down the stretch. New York allowed the Eagles to rack up 161 yards on the ground in last month's meeting, then surrendered 236 to the normally pass-reliant New Orleans Saints the following week. Still, the defense is strong up the middle, where linebacker Antonio Pierce (137 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) has great range and tackling ability and tackles Fred Robbins (45 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT) and rookie Barry Cofield (44 tackles, 1.5 tackles) are active space-eaters. Strong safety Gibril Wilson (100 tackles, 2 INT, 3 forced fumbles) is also an aggressive defender against the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Although Jay Feely isn't a fan favorite among Giants backers, the kicker has actually put together a solid season for Big Blue. Feely has made good on 23- of-27 field-goal tries and has been perfect on all 11 of his tries on the road, though he's still a little shaky from beyond 45 yards. The ageless Jeff Feagles, who spent four of his 19 NFL seasons in Philadelphia, remains a master at directional punting and is a big reason why New York has allowed just 5.8 yards per return (3rd overall).

Eagles kicker David Akers has been to three Pro Bowls, but the left-footer has gone through an inconsistent campaign in 2006. He's missed five of his 23 field goal chances and hasn't even attempted anything beyond 50 yards. Punter Dirk Johnson is nothing special.

Philadelphia appears to have an advantage in the return game, where the Giants lost top guy Chad Morton to a torn ACL in their Week 16 loss to New Orleans. Reno Mahe posted solid averages of 22.2 yards per kick and 9.4 per punt for the Eagles, and made a big play in Philly's win at the Meadowlands last month. After a Feely field goal early in the fourth quarter gave New York a 16-14 edge, Mahe took the ensuing kick 64 yards to set up a go-ahead touchdown.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Playoff games are generally won by the team that makes fewer mistakes and displays better leadership. Philadelphia has a clear advantage in both categories, as Garcia has been tremendously effective and is a proven winner, while the jury is still out as to whether Manning can produce in such a high- pressure scenario. The Giants' powder-keg reputation isn't traditionally conducive to playoff success either, and going into one of football's most hostile environments also isn't a plus. Unless Barber has another huge performance, expect the curtain to come down on his outstanding career, and speculation regarding the future of his embattled head coach to take over as the main story in the Big Apple.

Jets vs Patriots Preview
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