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The Philadelphia Eagles aren't supposed to be here.
They needed what was practically an act of God in Week 17 just to get to the postseason. Then they went on the road, and while they were favored, it was still Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid in a road playoff game.
The two got the job done. Reid called enough runs to keep the Vikings defense honest, McNabb made some plays, and they found a way to get Brian Westbrook involved when the game was on the line.
Beyond that, they did what this Philadelphia team should do, and they rode Jim Johnson's defense to a victory.
Now, beating the defending world champions in their house should prove more difficult than beating the Vikings at the Metrodome was. The New York Giants didn't just get handed the top seed in the NFC. They got off to a hot start, weathered a late-season slump, and managed to come from behind to beat Carolina for home-field advantage. They earned this right.
Just don't let that stop you from thinking the visitors have a shot Sunday.
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
Three key questions:
1. Can Philadelphia's defense wreak havoc on Eli Manning? Absolutely, it can. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, while working the Wild Card game Sunday, were talking about how Johnson really, really likes this defense. The most impressive thing about it is their ability to pressure from all angles and all levels. Johnson really isn't shy about blitzing safeties or linebackers, or even dropping extra guys into coverage and rushing just his front four.
2. Will the Giants be able to bottle up Westbrook? Minnesota did, with the notable exception of one play. The Giants are likely to fare better offensively than Philadelphia did, meaning that Westbrook becomes even more vital. The Giants run defense is simply not nearly as good as the Vikings', however. This is a huge matchup. Reid has to get his star back involved early and often, and he can't just do it running the ball.
3. Which old-as-dirt kicker will come up with a big kick? OK, David Akers isn't as old as dirt. It just seems like he's been making big kicks for the Eagles for 25 years. John Carney is so old that even the leather helmet jokes don't do it justice.
Player in the spotlight
McNabb is too easy of a choice. I can't go with Brandon Jacobs. After missing the Giants' last game, he's been taken off New York's injury report. The Giants expect him to be available to start Sunday, but even if he's not, the Giants are very deep at running back.
My choice is Westbrook. I really think he's the guy who holds the key to Philadelphia's chances Sunday. He got off for the game-clincher against the Vikings, but he better not wait until the fourth quarter to get going.
Philadelphia's path to victory
Get Westbrook and McNabb going early, and let Johnson dial up all the pressures and coverages he can to baffle Manning and keep the running game at bay.
New York's path to victory
Pressure McNabb and keep him off his game. Score early. Falling behind as long as this offense doesn't have Burress around is a recipe for disaster.
I know it's probably not a smart thing to do, but I just don't trust Manning on his own in a playoff game against a rival. The Eagles did a decent job against the run in Minnesota, and they'll need to be better in this game. But as strange as it sounds, the Vikings were probably more equipped (outside of the quarterback position) to burn the Eagles down the field. Without Burress, the Giants have to run for a ton of yards and play a near-perfect defensive game to win. I'm not sure I can see that happening.
Eagles 17, Giants 13