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With nothing to lose, Eagles will be tough out for Giants

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Matt Slocum/AP
LeSean McCoy has been a bright spot for the 3-6 Eagles, with 906 rushing yards and 12 total TDs in 2011.

Every Thursday, Steve Wyche examines a handful of the week's premier matchups on the field.

Shortly after the New York Giants' loss to the San Francisco 49ers this past Sunday, I bumped into Giants general manager Jerry Reese. He wasn't pleased that his team didn't convert some touchdown opportunities and had to settle for field goals. He also wasn't thrilled to have to face the Eagles this weekend.

Philadelphia had already lost, and it wasn't yet known that quarterback Michael Vick and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin were hurt and might not play this week, but the rationale for Reese's concern was convincing.

The Eagles will be loose and free-wheeling because they're in nothing-to-lose mode. Even with Vince Young at quarterback, Philadelphia playing carefree could be the approach that gets it back in the win column.

It's easy to think that without Vick, the Eagles don't stand a chance. A glance at the standings also indicates that with Vick, Philadelphia is 3-6. No Maclin means maybe DeSean Jackson resurfaces. The potentially depleted roster could mean that the real benefactor could be LeSean McCoy, arguably the best running back in the game.

You see the reason for Reese's concern.

Then again, if the NFC East-leading Giants are to win the division and follow up their solid first half of the season, they have to win a game like this. The Eagles are vulnerable, and with a rough schedule remaining, the Giants have to win the games they should.

Quarterback Eli Manning should be able to manipulate the Eagles' defense if the running game, behind Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware, can do enough to set up the play-action passing attack. The Eagles' defensive backs could make things tough on New York, but the Giants were able to move the ball against a very good 49ers team last week, so this shouldn't be a more complicated task.

The difference could be in perspective. The Eagles really don't have much to lose. The Giants do. Should New York play tight or under a sense of pressure, then Reese's foresight will have been on the mark.

Whitworth vs. Suggs

The Ravens will be seething when they play host to AFC North playoff threat Cincinnati this weekend. They're coming off an unsettling loss to Seattle, and they'll need to right themselves against a team nobody wants to play right now.

A member of the Bengals nobody really wants to face right now -- or anytime really -- is tackle Andrew Whitworth, the clubhouse leader and resident body guard of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Whitworth is rugged in the running game and more than reliable in pass protection for an offensive line that's allowed Dalton to be sacked just 13 times this season.

Whitworth will be matched frequently against high energy outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, an athletic pass rusher whose fervor for the game rivals inside linebacker Ray Lewis. Suggs has six sacks this season, but since registering three in the season-opener against Pittsburgh, he's had one each against St. Louis, Jacksonville and Arizona -- non-divisional foes with not much going on offensively.

Suggs has just one sack against the Bengals the past two seasons and was shut out last season.

The Bengals are more of a play-action offense with Dalton getting rid of the ball quickly in straight drop-back sets. So the opportunities to get to him aren't ideal. However, with Whitworth being able to handle pass rushers without much help, other linemen can pay attention to other obstacles and help form the needed pocket for Dalton to read through his progressions.

This won't be easy for Cincinnati, especially if Suggs and that defense get rolling early, but the Bengals are resilient and don't seem like a team that's going to wither.

Reeling Bucs vs. Perfect Pack

Tampa Bay is a mess. The optimism that was spawned by last season's 10 wins has crashed into a reality check that improvement doesn't just come with experience. The Buccaneers look slow on offense and totally overmatched on defense -- and they have to travel to Green Bay this weekend possibly to be further exposed.

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When I covered the Buccaneers in a recent loss at New Orleans, the offense looked basic and predictable, and the Saints' much smaller cornerbacks didn't seem to have much of a problem covering Tampa Bay's big wideouts or tight end Kellen Winslow. Quarterback Josh Freeman has regressed this season but so have his targets, whose inability to get open or be put in position to make plays surely has contributed.

The Buccaneers' front four on defense doesn't generate much pressure, leaving the defensive backs vulnerable.

Against Green Bay, that sounds like a bad mix. Aaron Rodgers doesn't need much time but when he has it, it's a wrap. Defensively, the Packers look to be getting back their mojo. Plus, it appears that it will be cold in Wisconsin, and the Buccaneers don't have a great history of success in sub-40-degree temperatures.

If the Buccaneers don't man up, their losing streak will get to four games with no end in sight. They've suffered two lopsided losses and another one will lead to more legitimate concerns about the character of this team.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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