Wildcard Preview: New York Giants vs Philadelphia Eagles
By Chris Pokorny, PFCritics WriterJanuary 7, 2007
This Sunday, the Wild Card Weekend will continue when the New York Giants try to regain their composure and realize that this is a whole new season. They should be thankful for being where they are, because they certainly didn't deserve it with the way they played after the half-way point of the season. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles suddenly look like they could very well be the best team in the NFC. No one could have expected that Jeff Garcia would have been able to step in and play as well as he has after the injury to Donovan McNabb. With both teams heading in opposite direction, the Eagles have all the momentum in the world heading into this game.
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Eli Manning: 301 of 522 for 3244 yards, 24 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 25 sacks, 2 fumbles.
Note: I don't care how many touchdowns you throw - if you can't pull your team together in the clutch, you're not going to win a playoff game. Manning's accuracy has been horrible at times this season, and most of his problems started after losing Amani Toomer for the season. The Giants couldn't rely on Manning in their must-win Week 17 game, and that'll have to be the case throughout the postseason in all likelihood if they want a shot at winning.
Jeff Garcia: 116 of 188 for 1309 yards, 10 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 6 sacks, 2 fumbles.
Note: The Eagles were left for dead by many people, including me, after Donovan McNabb went down for the year. Since Jeff Garcia has stepped in, he has surpassed expectations, and the offense has actually played better with him under center. Garcia's mobility and decision making have been brilliant, and he already picked up a win a few weeks ago against the Giants defense.
Note: How important was Tiki Barber in the team's final game of the regular season? Barber had fallen into the team's slump with the rest of the players, but he stepped up his game when it counted most. Based on the way the Giants defense and Manning have played this season, I wouldn't be surprised if the entire offensive gameplan revolves around Barber again. Barber has to know that any game he plays now could be his last.
Note: Remove the stereotype that the Eagles may not have a "powerful" or "typical" running back. Westbrook's versatility is what elevates the Eagles offense to the next level. Of all the players on the team's offense, he is the most critical player. It's rare that Westbrook can be taken out of the gameplan by opposing defenses too, because even if he doesn't find room on the ground, he can catch it out of the backfield for big plays.
Note: Only two receivers are listed here, because that's how inept this unit has been. Losing Toomer was a devastating loss for them, because guys like David Tyree, Tim Carter, and Sinorice Moss really haven't factored into the offense. To make things worse, Shockey has had his fair share of drops this season. Manning's been most effective when he has been able to throw the deep ball to Plaxico Burress, something they should try to exploit against the Eagles tough secondary.
Note: Compared to the Giants, the Eagles have so many guys that they can count on to step up their games. The crazy thing is that I could've listed two more guys if I wanted to. Brown, Stallworth, and Smith will be Garcia's primary targets, but Baskett has proven to be a solid threat via the deep ball. Greg Lewis has some postseason experience, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles use him effectively down near the red zone.
Note: The Giants' defense can defined by one word: mistakes. You could make a highlight reel of some horrible plays they have made during the season. Even last week against the Redskins, they nearly gave up a commanding lead despite Barber's incredible performance. They are hurting without Michael Strahan, and are in desperate need of finding an individual that can pull everyone together.
Note: When you talk about defensive players stepping up, the Eagles are the complete opposite of the Giants at this point. So many people on Philadelphia's defense have made plays, especially cornerback Lito Sheppard and safety Brian Dawkins. The Eagles are statistically vulnerable against the run, but it'll be near impossible for Barber to reproduce the effort he had in Week 17. Burress will be the Giants' primary focus in the passing game, but with how the Eagles secondary has been, they shouldn't have too many issues at stopping him.
Chad Morton: 21.6 yards per kick return, 9.2 yard per punt return. Jay Feely: 23-of-27 in field goals, with a long of 47 yards.
Note: Morton hasn't really been too explosive since he came over from the AFC several years ago. Feely hasn't had too bad of a season kicking the ball, but we all remember how horrible he was in the playoffs last season. If the Giants can't rely on their kicker in the playoffs, then it'll only force the Giants to try and force the ball on offense more than they should have.
Reno Mahe: 22.2 yards per kick return, 9.4 yards per punt return. David Akers: 18-of-23 in field goals, with a long of 47 yards.
Note: Mahe really hasn't been too much of a threat in the return game either, but the Eagles have the slight advantage here with Akers. He has plenty of postseason experience and will have the home-field factor on his side as well.
New York Giants
Even if Manning steps his game up, I don't know if he'll get a lot of help. Everyone knows how bad the Giants have played to close out the season, and more than one player deserves the blame for it. Shockey will try to play despite an injury, but he hasn't really been a game-changing player this season. Burress seems to make a big play early in games, but he needs to establish himself as more of a threat than his height potential.
If the Giants are able to pull out a victory, I don't see how they can do it without a productive day from Tiki Barber. Even on many of the big runs that Barber has had this season, it's been a great effort by him rather than superior blocking. With the Giants having a lack of playmakers in the passing game as well, Barber will be a safety valve often. Brandon Jacobs has been utilized in short yardage situations this season, but at this point, it may be better for the Giants to simply stick with their veteran.
Even if the Giants play well offensively, it's doubtful that they will get any help from their defense. To make matters worse, the Eagles offensive line has played better than anyone in the league, making it even tougher to get pressure on Garcia. The defense is going to have to hope for some fumbles, much like they had from Ladell Betts early in the final game of the season.
Although I'm not saying that Jeff Garcia is necessarily better than Donovan McNabb, but fans have to be comfortable with their veteran backup quarterback under center. There is nothing overly special about the Giants secondary, and Garcia should be able to find some holes in their zone. The one mistake he can't begin to make it to be erratic in the pocket. The Giants still have some quick defensive linemen, and one move in the wrong direction could turn out to be a big sack.
Earlier, I mentioned how important Brian Westbrook was to the Eagles offense. Don't forget about how important backup Correll Buckhalter has been. Buckhalter has had so many injury problems the past few years, that the Eagles haven't had a legitimate guy to spell Westbrook. Buckhalter doesn't miss a beat when Westbrook leaves the game for a break, something that represents one of those little aspects of the game that end up having so much impact.
Although Garcia has stepped in well, an Eagles playoff run wouldn't have been possible had the defense been determined to never give up. Philadelphia's secondary has one target to focus on - Plaxico Burress. The linebackers will be focused on preventing Barber from breaking any big runs. It's easier said than done, but the Eagles have the veterans, schemes, and experience do get it done.
AFC Wildcard Prediction
Winner - Philadelphia Eagles
If you weren't able to tell by my constant praise of the Eagles and disgust with the Giants that I would take the Eagles to win this game, then I wouldn't be too sure what you were thinking. I liked the Giants before the season started and had extremely high hopes for them. However, I just have the feeling that they don't deserve to be here with the way they've played. The entire storyline of the Eagles season has been poetic, and it'd be a shame if it ended with a loss to a division rival. Final Score: Eagles 28, Giants 17.