Few things are more fun to watch than a late-season NFC East showdown between two talented and motivated teams. While the Eagles look to continue their hot streak and take advantage of the miracle Sunday that vaulted them into the playoffs, the Giants hope to defend last year's Super Bowl title.
1. Run the Ball
It's pretty simple: Run the ball. A lot.
Including yesterday's playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Eagles are 9-1 in 2008 when they run the ball 20 or more times and just 1-5-1 when they run the ball fewer than 20 times.
Brian Westbrook didn't have a good game Sunday on the ground, rushing for just 38 yards on 20 carries as both he and the offensive line uncharacteristically struggled, but give Andy Reid credit for sticking to the run.
The Eagles ran the ball 23 times as a team. If backup running back Correll Buckhalter can get some more carries, it will help to take pressure off of Westbrook and mix up the rushing attack.
2. Convert Third Downs
This past week against the Vikings, the Eagles converted five of 14 third downs—just 35 percent, which in itself isn't great. But they had some huge plays—including two third-down completions to Jason Avant from inside their own five-yard line.
The key for the Eagles is the little plays such as the 3rd-and-1 plays. Without a power back or a solid tight end, the Eagles have been forced to pass way too often on 3rd-and-short this season, and the result hasn't always been successful. If the Eagles can get these third-down plays, they should be able to control the clock.
3. Put Some Pressure on Eli Manning
The old erratic Eli Manning of the past—remember the '06 game down the stretch when Trent Cole picked off Eli and took it to the house to ice a 36-22 win—seems to be gone and replaced by the Super Bowl-winning quarterback who calmly threw the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left to defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Eli has played surprisingly well against the Eagles in his career, with 10 touchdowns against just five picks, and a 4-3 record since 2006.
Guys like Brian Dawkins and Asante Samuel—players who have a knack for the ball—need to be on their game for the Eagles to win. And the defensive line, which helped the Eagles finish second in the NFL in sacks this past season, needs to pressure Eli Manning into forcing turnovers.
4. Contain Justin Tuck
What a fabulous season Tuck had. Without Michael Strahan (retired) or Osi Umenyiora (injured reserve) to take pressure off him, Tuck still managed to put up 12 sacks in his first full season as a starter.
The Eagles' offensive line, which struggled against the Vikings just a week after manhandling the Cowboys, needs to be able to contain Tuck, who could line up at any spot on the defensive line.
5. Spread the Ball Around on Offense
The Eagles lack the playmaking receiver they have so desperately needed since Terrell Owens left the team following the 2005 season. This makes it all the more important for Donovan McNabb to spread the ball around to other receivers.
This past week, McNabb completed passes to nine different receivers for 300 yards against the Vikings. If he keeps the backups involved—guys like Buckhalter, Avant, and Matt Schobel—the Eagles should be able to move the chains.
6. Shut Down Brandon Jacobs
Jacobs is a big, strong power back who is capable of 25-30 carries every game. When he gets in a rhythm, he is tough to bring down, and he is good enough to win the game for the Giants.
The young linebackers, who have performed at a superb level all season, need to be able to keep Jacobs under 100 yards. This will force Eli Manning to throw the ball, which in turn should create plays for the Eagle defense.
The Bottom Line
This is going to be a close game. Eli Manning & Co. always play the Eagles for a full 60 minutes. The two teams split this season, with the Eagles taking the point differential by just an extra point (51-50).
It will come down to which quarterback makes more plays—and McNabb is going to find a way to get it done. Westbrook will bounce back and have a great game (100-plus rushing yards and a touchdown), and I wouldn't be surprised if the defense forces three turnovers. I say the Eagles win, 23-17.