Here are the reasons why the Giants will upset the Eagles on Sunday:
•They've found a quarterback to rally around, and it's been a while since they've had that.
•The offensive line can breathe easier now that it's freed from that ugly finger-pointing about whose fault it is that the team leads the league in sacks allowed.
•They're still steamed about the whipping the Eagles put on them in Philly in the opener.
November 29, 2004
•The Eagles can become the first team to clinch a division title by winning this game, and the Giants would love to keep them from doing it.
•The Giants always play the Eagles tough in the Meadowlands.
Last one first: In 2003 the Eagles reached the NFC title game and the Giants finished 4--12, but when they met on Oct. 19, New York strangled Philly's offense, limiting it to 134 yards. The Giants held a 10--7 lead late in the fourth quarter and had the ball in Philly territory. All they had to do was run the clock and then pin the Eagles back with a good punt.
Instead the punt took a weird bounce and stayed in the field of play, and Brian Westbrook returned it 84 yards for a touchdown with 1:16 left.
Eli Manning's debut as the Giants' starting quarterback against the Falcons on Sunday may have been an L on the scoreboard, but it was a triumph if you look at the big picture. He got sacked on his fourth snap, but that was the only time the Falcons got him. And this was against a defense that came into the game second in the NFL in sacks.
New York's linemen knew that if they held their blocks for a reasonable amount of time, Manning would get the pass off. And the passes Manning threw on Sunday had more velocity than the receivers were used to, which might be why a few of them were dropped.
But the best thing about Manning's debut was that the players seemed to get a lift from the kid. They were playing tough on both sides of the ball, and in the second half Michael Vick and the Atlanta offense were on their heels. What did Manning in? A pick from a defensive end, Brady Smith, who dropped back in a zone blitz, something Manning didn't see much of in the SEC. Then, in the last minute, Pro Bowl linebacker Keith Brooking ran a trick on Manning, showing him an uncovered receiver, tight end Jeremy Shockey, before breaking for the spot and knocking the pass away.
But that's all part of Manning's learning process. Philly's defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, will show Manning an exotic package, but I think the Giants will beat it. The Eagles' defensive complexities couldn't stop another rookie, the Steelers' Big Ben Roethlisberger, and I think Manning and the Giants will triumph as well. One reservation, though. If Tiki Barber can't play because of his head injury, the Eagles are the pick.
I've given you my major upset, so I'm afraid it's going to be mostly chalk from here on in. The Bengals will bounce back against Cleveland. The Chiefs will beat San Diego in Arrowhead, where they've defeated the Chargers seven straight times. Minnesota-Jacksonville is an interesting matchup, but the unsettled Jaguars' quarterback situation makes the Vikings the choice. The Jets have played in Arizona only once, eight years ago, and they won by 10. What the heck, let's give them another win in the desert.
Green Bay, which proved its toughness on Sunday night in Houston, will keep it going and whip the Rams in the Monday-nighter. Believe it or not, the Saints have won three of their last four games in Atlanta. Not this time, though. The Falcons are the pick. Kyle Boller is finally coming into his own under the tutelage of Jim Fassel, and the Ravens have some punch now but not enough to stop the Patriots in Foxborough. --Paul Zimmerman
Last week: 7--1 ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Season: 57--38