Defense wins championships.
Or in the case of the Philadelphia Eagles, defense earned the team a playoff spot.
Led by seven-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, the Eagles' defense has been on fire over the past month. They boast the best total defense in the NFC, and rank in the top five in both passing and rushing defense.
Both Dawkins and cornerback Asante Samuel made the Pro Bowl—the only selections coming out of Philadelphia. Dawkins also earned NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for December.
The Eagles' season has been a roller coaster ride, with the low point coming against the Baltimore Ravens. For the first time in his life, McNabb was pulled from a game. Since then, the team has hit its stride.
In the month of December, the Eagles' defense only gave up 26 points, leading the team to a 3-1 stretch run. The team was rewarded with an improbable playoff berth and a game on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
"Our defense is gelling. I think we all feel that," strong safety Quintin Mikell said. "We're communicating and working well together. I think there is a high level of confidence here."
It is no secret that Super Bowl-winning teams have historically done it with a strong running game and dominant defense. The Giants of last season were the epitome of that philosophy.
If the Eagles are going to make it to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl, the defense is going to have to play as well as it has been.
If the Eagles leave Minnesota with a win Sunday, they would head to the Meadowlands for a meeting with the Giants. The Eagles have already beaten the Giants on the road this season, but that was a different time. The Giants are free from the Plaxico Burress distraction, and should have running back Brandon Jacobs back healthy.
The players are not looking that far ahead, nor should they.
Minnesota is a talented, up-and-coming squad. Running back Adrian Peterson earned the rushing title in his second season, and the Vikings' defense ranks first in the league against the run.
"The Super Bowl seems so far away when you start the season," said linebacker Stewart Bradley. "Now there are 12 teams playing. It's exciting, for sure. You have to guard against not playing the game on Tuesday or Wednesday."
The Eagles are confident. They are playing well and are the favorites to win on Sunday. But, if the Eagles are going to make a run, Dawkins, Mikell, Bradley, and the rest of the white-hot Philly defense will have to lead the way.