East Rutherford, NJ - The New York Giants defied doubters and the odds last season, getting hot late in the year and riding that momentum to a stunning Super Bowl title despite entering the NFC playoffs as the fifth seed.
The Giants should see something very familiar in this year's Philadelphia Eagles.
New York opens the playoffs Sunday with a divisional-round game against the red-hot Eagles, who despite being the last seed in the conference, should pose a formidable challenge for their NFC East rivals at Giants Stadium.
Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook Sportsbook.com have made the Giants –4 point spread favorites for Sunday’s game against the Eagles. Current NFL Public Betting Information shows that 51% of more than 63,970 bets for this game have been placed on the Giants -4.
New York (12-4) stumbled somewhat at the end of the season, dropping three of its last four, although it managed to clinch the top seed in the NFC with an overtime win over Carolina on Dec. 21. That earned a much-needed first-round bye for the Giants, who opened the season 11-1 and weathered a brutal schedule while playing 13 straight games after their bye week.
"The regular season is over, whatever the numbers might be," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We have been cast into a situation where we had the bye. You heard me say that I thought the bye was good for our team. I don't know that I would necessarily say that every year. In this case, I thought it was."
The situation for Coughlin's team is far different than it was last year, when upstart New York won three of four going into its season finale against unbeaten New England. Despite having the fifth seed already locked in, the Giants nearly knocked off the Patriots before losing 38-35, and the effort seemed to help propel them on their postseason run - as well as give them the confidence needed to upset the Pats in the rematch in the Super Bowl.
This year, New York is among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl again - something the Giants have been careful to disregard as any sort of advantage.
"Being the 2007 Super Bowl champions does not scare anybody, obviously," middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "For us, it is about going out there and getting our swagger back, getting that chip on our shoulder, listening to all these critics and opinion makers who have their say on what is going to happen or what did happen and go out there and play football."
New York seemed to thrive on that perceived lack of respect from the media and critics throughout the season, bristling at suggestions that the championship run was just a case of it getting hot at the right time. That's certainly what the Giants' Sunday opponent has done.
Philadelphia (10-6-1) has gone from being dismissed in Week 12, when quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched in a 36-7 loss to Baltimore, to a team that seems capable of pulling off a Giants-style run to the Super Bowl. The Eagles won four of their last five and pounded Dallas 44-6 in their season finale, earning an improbable playoff berth after also getting help from Tampa Bay and Chicago, who both needed to lose for the Eagles to get in.
Philadelphia went on to knock off Minnesota 26-14 in the wild-card round last week, showing the team had plenty left after its late-season run.
"I think we're dangerous," said cornerback Asante Samuel, who returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. "We've just got to see how it plays out."
The Eagles' resurgence has been due in large part to McNabb, who responded after being benched in the second half against the Ravens. He was back starting the next week and led his team on its season-ending surge, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 1,146 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception over the final five games.
After the loss to Baltimore dropped the Eagles to 5-5-1 and into last place in the NFC East, speculation swirled that McNabb along with coach Andy Reid would be done in Philadelphia after this season. Six weeks later, such talk seems absurd.
"I've been kind of revived, I guess," McNabb said. "They've (critics) thrown me out, they ran over me, spit on me, but you know what, I just continue to prevail."
McNabb helped the Eagles do that against the Giants on Dec. 7, as Philadelphia won 20-14 to deal New York its only home loss of the season. McNabb went 19-of-30 for 191 yards, and Brian Westbrook rushed for 131 yards and caught six passes for 72 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter for the winning score.
That week saw the Giants embroiled in controversy following the season-ending suspension of Plaxico Burress. The receiver, who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl, was banned by the team after accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a New York nightclub.
Pierce was also involved in the incident, getting cited for failing to alert authorities after helping Burress get treatment following the shooting.
Burress contributed little in a controversy filled season that saw him clash with the organization and Coughlin, and his big-play ability was noticeably missed by the Giants in several games, including the loss to the Eagles. More important to the Giants offense, however, is a healthy Brandon Jacobs - which New York will have after the bruising back sat out the regular season finale to give him two weeks off to rest his sore left knee.
New York relies on the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs to wear down defenses with his power running - something he couldn't do against Philadelphia in December when he was forced out at halftime after aggravating the knee injury.
Jacobs rushed for 1,089 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, and his punishing style created opportunities for the elusive Derrick Ward, who ran for 1,025 yards as the Giants became the fourth team in NFL history to have two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. New York led the NFL in rushing with 157.4 yards per game.
Jacobs ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns at Philadelphia on Nov. 9, when New York rolled up 401 yards of offense and held on for a 36-31 victory.
Like all Giants opponents, the Eagles will be focused on containing Jacobs and Ward. Philadelphia succeeded at doing that in December, limiting New York to 88 yards on the ground, and it allowed 92.3 rushing yards per game on the season - fourth-fewest in the league.
Coordinator Jim Johnson's defense ranked third in the NFL with 274.3 yards allowed per game and fourth with 18.1 points a contest.
The Eagles' success against them this season made the bye week all the more important for the Giants.
"Last week was good for us," said Eli Manning, who threw for 314 yards, three TDs and one interception versus Philadelphia this year. "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."
As important as stopping the run will be for the Eagles, it's just as critical for the Giants when it comes to Westbrook. The versatile back has averaged 70.1 rushing yards with seven touchdowns in 12 games against New York, and caught 46 passes for 462 yards with five scores - four of his receptions going for 25 yards or more.
Westbrook caught a 71-yard TD in the fourth quarter last week to seal the win and had 121 total yards, complementing McNabb, who threw for 300 yards.
The task of stopping the duo falls to former Eagles assistant and current Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who devised the blitz-heavy scheme that was instrumental in defeating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. New York ranked fifth in the league in points allowed per game (18.4) and yards per contest (292.0).
Both teams continue to employ fierce pass rushes, with the Eagles ranking third in the league with 48 sacks and the Giants finishing sixth with 42 despite the offseason losses of last season's starting ends Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to injury.
"I think the Eagles are the hottest team in the NFL right now," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who led New York with 12 sacks. "They may be the sixth seed, but they sure aren't playing like it."
The Giants have won three of the last four meetings and six of nine. The teams have only met three times in the playoffs, with the Eagles taking the most recent matchup 23-20 at home Jan. 7, 2007 in a wild-card game.
Eagles at Giants Top Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
NY GIANTS is 19-17 against the spread versus PHILADELPHIA since 1992
NY GIANTS is 20-16 straight up against PHILADELPHIA since 1992
22 of 36 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
NY GIANTS is 5-2 against the spread versus PHILADELPHIA over the last 3 seasons
NY GIANTS is 4-3 straight up against PHILADELPHIA over the last 3 seasons
4 of 7 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at NY GIANTS since 1992
NY GIANTS is 9-9 against the spread versus PHILADELPHIA since 1992
NY GIANTS is 10-8 straight up against PHILADELPHIA since 1992
13 of 18 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at NY GIANTS over the last 3 seasons.
PHILADELPHIA is 2-1 against the spread versus NY GIANTS over the last 3 seasons
PHILADELPHIA is 2-1 straight up against NY GIANTS over the last 3 seasons
2 of 3 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Eagles at Giants Key Player Injuries
[CB] Jack Ikegwuonu IR - Knee - 08/27/08
[DE] Victor Abiamiri missed last game ? - Foot - 01/04/09
[FB] Dan Klecko injured last game, "?" - Shoulder - 01/05/09
[OG] Max Jean-Gilles IR - Ankle - 11/28/08
[OG] Shawn Andrews is out indefinitely - Back - 10/22/08
[OL] Mike McGlynn expected to miss - Hamstring - 01/06/09
[OT] King Dunlap IR - Ankle - 12/26/08
[TE] L.J. Smith missed last game ? - Shoulder - 01/04/09
[WR] Greg Lewis is "?" - Abdominal - 01/05/09
(!) [RB] Brandon Jacobs missed last game, probable - Knee - 12/28/08
(!) [WR] Plaxico Burress is expected to miss the rest of the season. - Suspension - 12/02/08
[CB] Aaron Ross is upgraded to probable - Concussion - 01/06/09
[CB] Kevin Dockery is upgraded to probable - Back - 01/06/09
[CB] Sam Madison IR - Leg - 12/30/08
[DE] Osi Umenyiora IR - Knee - 08/26/08
[DT] Barry Cofield is upgraded to probable - Knee - 01/06/09
[DT] Fred Robbins is "?" - Shoulder - 01/06/09
[G] Shane Olivea IR - Back - 08/14/08
[LB] Gerris Wilkinson is upgraded to probable - Knee - 01/06/09
[LB] Jonathan Goff IR - Hamstring - 12/17/08
[RB] Reuben Droughns IR - Neck - 12/17/08
[S] Michael Johnson is upgraded to probable - Thigh - 01/06/09
[S] Sammy Knight IR - Hip - 11/29/08
[TE] Kevin Boss is upgraded to probable - Ankle - 01/06/09
[TE] Michael Matthews is upgraded to probable - Leg - 01/06/09
[WR] David Tyree IR - Knee - 11/05/08
Posted: 1/10/08 6:40PM ET