Giants-Eagles rivalry goes up a notch, with playoff duel up next

NEWARK, N.J. -- If there's one team that can grab the New York Giants' attention in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, it's the Philadelphia Eagles.

Last month, the Eagles embarrassed the defending Super Bowl champions 20-14 at Giants Stadium in a game that really wasn't that close. Coach Andy Reid's team will bring one other scary factor up the New Jersey Turnpike next Sunday when it faces New York (12-4): The Eagles appear to be this year's version of the Giants.

They're playing well at the right time, just as the Giants did in their improbable run to a title last season.

"I think the Eagles are the hottest team in the NFL right now," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said Sunday after Philadelphia beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-14 in an NFC wild-card game. "They may be the sixth seed, but they sure aren't playing like it."

The Eagles have resurrected themselves after a brutal 36-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 23, a game in which quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched. They won their next four games and, after a loss to the Washington Redskins in the penultimate game of the season, they clinched a playoff berth with an impressive 44-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

"We know them well, which is a good thing, but they know us well, too," Tuck said of the Eagles. "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 East battle you'd expect, and we are really looking forward to it."

The Giants, the NFC's top-seeded team for the playoffs, outlasted the Eagles 36-31 in their first meeting in Philadelphia on Nov. 9 in a game in which New York quarterback Eli Manning and the offense gained 401 total yards. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and Manning passed for 182 yards and two scores, including one to now-suspended wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

The second meeting -- a little more than a week after Burress shot himself in the thigh in a New York nightclub -- was dominated by the Eagles' defense and halfback Brian Westbrook, who accounted for 203 yards from scrimmage. New York was limited to 211 total yards. Jacobs was forced out at halftime after aggravating a knee injury, and Philadelphia held the ball for almost 35 minutes, with Westbrook scoring on a 30-yard run and a 40-yard pass.

The only thing that kept New York in the game was a blocked field-goal try that Kevin Dockery returned for a touchdown. The Giants' other TD was a meaningless one scored in the closing seconds.

"The Eagles are a very good football team that has done a tremendous job of battling back during the latter part of the season," Manning said. "Obviously, we had two very tough regular-season games against them."

The good news for the Giants is that they have had an extra week off to get ready and recover.

Jacobs hasn't played since Dec. 21, and many of the starters, including Manning and Tuck, were lifted at halftime in the regular-season finale against the Vikings, a game New York lost on a last-second field goal.

"Last week was good for us," Manning said. "We got some good work in during those two practices, but it's good that we now know who we are playing. We are excited to get to work this week. We need a good week of practice and preparation because it's about execution at this time of year, especially against a team we face twice a year in games that always seem to come down to the fourth quarter."

But the extra week off didn't help the Cowboys last season, when the Giants surprised them in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.

This will be the fourth playoff game between the Giants and Eagles.

Philadelphia won the last one in an NFC Wild-Card Game on Jan. 7, 2007, in Philadelphia. David Akers kicked 38-yard field goal on the final play to give the Eagles a 23-20 win.

The Giants beat the Eagles 20-10 in the NFC Divisional Playoffs on Jan. 7, 2001, en route to the Super Bowl.

The teams first played each other in the postseason on Dec. 27, 1981, when the Giants upset the Eagles 27-21 in a wild-card game in Philadelphia.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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