— The New York Giants have the opportunity to not only beat the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in the divisional playoffs, but bury the franchise.
The Andy Reid/Donovan McNabb era is 60 minutes away from being extinct if the Giants advance to the NFC Championship game. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie will have no choice but to break up his team. The championship window would be closed, and they'd be facing a potential Giants dynasty.
Philadelphia is feeling good this week as the hottest team in the playoffs after they beat Minnesota last Sunday 24-16 at the Metrodome. The Eagles have been playing for their football lives for well over a month and have risen to a new level after being left for dead back in mid-November.
Donovan McNabb was benched by head coach Andy Reid in the second half of their Dec. 23 game at Baltimore in which the Birds got embarrassed, 36-7. At that moment it looked as if the Reid/McNabb relationship was dead.
I have always believed that it would be best for McNabb to leave The City of Brotherly Love after the season if he doesn’t go deep into the playoffs. He is too talented to be remembered as a professional athlete who couldn’t win a championship in Philadelphia.
I expect the Giants to start slow after having two weeks off. Eli Manning has not played exceptionally well at home and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson will instruct his team to blitz the quarterback and disrupt his rythm.
Look for Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to counter by calling for several screen passes to keep the Eagles defense honest. If the Eagles get to Manning and hit him while he delivers the ball or sack him, they will gain confidence and cause turnovers. Manning hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards at the Meadowlands since the Giants beat Seattle on Oct. 5. New York has the best offensive line in the NFL and they desperately needed a week off. The defending champs have lost three of their last four games and must take advantage of their time off.
Eli Manning will want to establish the run with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. If the Giants can successfully gain control of the line of scrimmage that will open up all sorts of options, including the play-action pass.
The Eagles have five standout players who need to have great games if they want to have a chance to win.
Donovan McNabb is back in another big game. He is playing with a huge chip on his shoulder and can taste another trip to the NFC Championship game. I still don't believe that he has enough playmakers other than Brain Westbrook and DeSean Jackson to bail him out against the Giants.
Receivers Jason Avant and Kevin Curtis played well against Minnesota. If McNabb plays a great game and knocks off the defending Super Bowl champions in their house, he should quiet all of his detractors.
Brian Dawkins is one of the most experienced safeties in the NFL and knows the Giants better than any defender in the league. He loves to cheat up towards the line of scrimmage and help in run support, and also has the ability to quickly get back into deep coverage.
He is the quarterback of the Philadelphia defense and must be tested by Eli Manning. Plaxico Burress was the perfect weapon to neutralize Dawkins because of his height and ability to get open behind any cornerback. Dawkins always had to keep an eye on Burress and cheat over to his side of the field when the Giants got into the red zone. But with Burress out, he will concentrate on stopping Brandon Jacobs and the potent Giants running attack. If he has a big game, New York is in deep trouble.
Brain Westbrook is the one player that the Giants didn't want to see in the playoffs. The versatile running back has had several big games against the Giants and loves matching up against the New York linebacking corps.
Giants linebacker and defensive captain Antonio Pierce seems to be a different player since his night out with Plaxico Burress.
Head coach Andy Reid and his offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will make sure that Westbrook gets more than 20 touches in this game to help keep the Giants defense on their heels.
If Philly can't establish the run or find Westbrook as a receiver out of the backfield, Donovan McNabb will be a sitting duck. The Eagles were in a tough fight against the Vikings until Westbrook caught a short pass from McNabb and went 71 yards and put the game away.
Former New England cornerback Asante Samuel is coming off a great performance against Minnesota where he picked off a Tavaris Jackson pass for the game-winning touchdown. Samuel will try to lock on to Manning's eyes and take chances against the Giants receiving corps. He has the ability to shut down his part of the field, so I expect the Giants to run right at him and try to soften him up.
DeSean Jackson is the new weapon that Donovan McNabb has been waiting for, and is the deep threat that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is worried about. He can run like the wind and is not afraid to go over the middle of the field.
He is a dangerous return specialist and could help the Eagles win the field position battle if he has a breakout game. Giants punter Jeff Feagles would be smart to kick away from Jackson if the game is tight in the second half.
My pick: Giants 24, Eagles 23