Giants wary of upstart Eagles

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 2:15 PM ET

If there is a team in football to have the good common sense to be wary of the Philadelphia Eagles, it should be the New York Giants.

Any of the Giants who went through the highs and the lows of their Super Bowl season a year ago should see enough of themselves in the current Eagles to understand they are a very dangerous opponent.

"I think the Eagles are the hottest team in football right now," Giants' defensive end Justin Tuck said. "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 well, too."

Last year, the Giants were a streaky team, winning all their road games to finish at 10-6 and scrape into the playoffs. If they thought they were a Super Bowl team, it was cleverly disguised. In the playoffs, they ran the table on the road, just as the Eagles must do if they are to duplicate their hated rivals.

The two meetings between these teams came from opposite ends of the spectrum. In Philadelphia, the Giants ran roughshod over the Eagles run defence in a 36-31 win. Brandon Jacobs rumbled for two TDs and 126 yards. Eli Manning tossed TD passes to Plaxico Burress and Kevin Boss. More to the point, the Giants defence smothered the Eagles on offence. No. 1 weapon Brian Westbrook managed just 26 yards on 13 carries.

Back in the Meadowlands, in the first game after Burress' self-inflicted gun shot wound put him on the sidelines, the Giants floundered, losing 20-14. Their vaunted run attack netted just 88 yards while the Eagles, not noted as a big rushing team, ran for 140 yards and added another 191 through the air. Westbrook accounted for 203 of Philly's 333 yards of offence.

Over the course of the year, the Giants defence had 42 sacks but in two games they didn't get to McNabb even once.

Since that first Philly game, Jacobs does not have a 100-yard rushing day. He has battled nagging knee injuries all season and did not play in two of New York's final three games.

"I'm wired," Jacobs said on Wednesday.

"I had to remind him that the game isn't until (today)," coach Tom Coughlin said.

At 6-foot-4, 264 lbs, Jacobs, if healthy, is the key to New York's run attack, from which all other weapons spring. Running behind a veteran offensive line that may be the best in the NFL, Jacobs can wear down a team. His presence is even more important in the absence of Burress, who always has been Manning's security blanket, especially on third down.

The Eagles have won five of their past six games, including last weekend's wild-card playoff in Minnesota. Many observers see this game today as a ticket to the Super Bowl for the survivor.

"I think they will be as good as ever," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, speaking about the Giants. "I would expect a knock-down, drag-out NFC East brawl."

CHARGERS IN TOUGH

Without the emergence of Darren Sproles as a major weapon in Philip Rivers' arsenal, the loss of LaDainian Tomlinson (torn groin muscle) could have been devastating for the Chargers. All Sproles did against the Colts was rush for 105 yards and two touchdowns, catch five passes for 45 yards and run kicks back for a total of 178 yards.

But no matter who is carrying the ball, beating the Steelers is going to be a tall order. They are No. 1 against the rush (80 yards/game), No. 1 against the pass (157 yards/game) and No. 1 in fewest points allowed (13.9 pts/game). They have the defensive player of the year in linebacker James Harrison and they have three or four others who are candidates for that award.

Even though only the New Orleans Saints scored more points than San Diego, scoring will be at a premium against Pittsburgh. That puts the pressure on the San Diego defence to keep a lid on Ben Roethlisberger and Co. On paper it doesn't look good for San Diego, in that it has the 31st-ranked pass defence out of 32 teams. That's a bit misleading in that most of the ugly stats were racked up in the early part of the season when the Chargers didn't know whether they were coming or going.

Since Ron Rivera took over the defence, the Chargers have rounded into a strong unit, recovering from the pre-season loss of Shawne Merriman. In the first eight games of the season, they were allowing 25 points per game. In the second half, they have pared that average by one full touchdown to 18 points per game. Most importantly, they are currently riding a five-game win streak.

Best they can hope for is to keep it close and steal it late.


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