Can Both Mannings Advance to The Next Round? Bettors Say No Way
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Less than two months ago, it seemed the Philadelphia Eagles' playoff hopes were lost and the New York Giants were a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Now, Philadelphia is possibly the league's hottest team entering the postseason and New York hardly deserves to be a part of it.
Jeff Garcia and the Eagles look to continue their surprising ride by
sending Tiki Barber into retirement and possibly ending Tom Coughlin's tenure as Giants coach in an NFC wild-card matchup on Sunday.
A funk that lasted into late November saw Philadelphia drop five of six to fall below .500, but more importantly, the team lost star quarterback Donovan McNabb to a season-ending knee injury. Garcia, though, went on to lead the Eagles to four consecutive victories - he barely played in Week 17 while Philadelphia won a fifth straight - and a 10-6 record to win the NFC East.
"We've worked hard over this past month to scratch and claw our way back," said Garcia, whose 95.8 passer rating this season topped McNabb's and would rank fourth in the NFL if he had enough attempts.
"It's very special to be among a group of guys like we have here that just continue to battle, continue to prepare, continue to focus week in and week out."
The Giants seemed to lose that focus in the second half of the season en route to an 8-8 finish, and many feel it could cost Coughlin his job, especially with a loss Sunday.
"I've not even thought one thought about that," Coughlin said. "I'm focused on trying to find a way for us to win and that's where I'll continue to focus."
New York was 6-2 in early November before losing six of seven, but pulled out a 34-28 win at last-place Washington last week to qualify for the playoffs.
The Giants are trying to join the 1999 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to win a playoff game after going 2-6 or worse in their final eight games of the season. New York has been outscored by a 107-26 margin in the fourth quarter during that span.
"We've already jumped over the hurdle about being here and I think that is the important thing," Coughlin said about backing in to the postseason. "Underdogs. Whatever. We'll draw strength from anything we can."
The Giants certainly have drawn strength from Barber, whose outstanding Week 17 performance lifted the team into the playoffs and kept his career going. While quarterback Eli Manning again struggled and the defense looked shaky, New York got a team-record 234 rushing yards and three touchdowns from the soon-to-be-retired Barber.
The franchise's career rushing leader, Barber ran for 1,662 yards this season to rank fourth in the NFL. New York was 6-2 when he rushed for 100 yards, and 2-6 when he didn't.
"My football career hopefully has four more games in it," Barber said.
However, he was mostly ineffective in two matchups with the Eagles this season.
Barber ran for 75 yards on 19 carries in Week 15, but the Eagles' 161 rushing yards nearly doubled New York's output and Garcia outplayed Manning as Philadelphia won 36-22. Barber was held to a season-low 51 yards on 21 attempts at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 17, but Manning helped the Giants rally from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter and win 30-24 in overtime.
"It's going to be a trash-talking game on the field," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "It is going to be a game where two teams that respect each other, but probably don't like each other a lot, are going to touch the field. It's going to be a war."
Philadelphia's version of Barber, Brian Westbrook, has been given the ball more since offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg took over the playcalling from coach Andy Reid two months ago.
Westbrook averaged more than 20 carries and 100 yards rushing in seven games following the change before sitting out most of the regular season finale. He did not have 20 carries in any of his first seven games while averaging about 30 fewer rushing yards per contest.
His effectiveness has taken some pressure off Garcia. He's completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and thrown only two interceptions since becoming the starter, getting sacked only six times in six games as his scrambling ability has fit well into Mornhinweg's scheme.
"He had some big shoes to fill," Reid said of Garcia. "And so he came in and handled that like a seasoned veteran, but he is also a very good football player and a Pro Bowl caliber football player.
"He knows that he is in a position where he has to lead. And he is taking that to heart."
In three career playoff games - all with San Francisco - Garcia got his only win in a 2003 wild-card matchup with the Giants as he led the 49ers back from a 24-point deficit over the final 18 minutes in a 39-38 victory.
New York has won its only two playoff meetings with Philadelphia, in 1981 and 2001. While the Eagles will next head to New Orleans if they win, New York would visit top seed Chicago.
First, Manning tries to lead the Giants to their first postseason victory since reaching the Super Bowl six years ago. The former No. 1 overall pick likely must get his game on track for New York to go on a playoff run because the Eagles defense surely will focus on stopping the run.
The third-year pro had a mostly dreadful second half with a 66.5 passer rating, compared to 87.5 during New York's 6-2 start. Manning completed only 21 of 51 passes (41.2 percent) over the last two.
"It's not on Eli, it's not just on Tiki," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "It's on us as a team. That's the mentality we have to have."
New York faces an Eagles defense that seems to have stabilized, allowing an average of 17.8 points during the five-game win streak while forcing 12 turnovers.
Manning's job could be made a bit easier if Jeremy Shockey returns to the lineup. The Pro Bowl tight end sat out last week due to a swollen left ankle, but there is a good chance he will play Sunday.
"It's really not about them. It's about us," Shockey said. "Us playing well together and giving ourselves a chance to win. That's what we're going to do this week."
By: Michael Cash - theSpread.com - Email Us
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