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Giants to play on Christmas Day for first time in franchise history

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Saquon Barkley made his Lincoln Financial Field debut on Nov. 25, 2018. He ran for a 51-yard touchdown, totaled 142 yards from scrimmage, and experienced the disappointment the Giants have borne too often in Philadelphia when Jake Elliott kicked a 43-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a 25-22 victory.

But Barkley's enduring imagine from that game is being pursued not by a speedy defensive back but a hulking defensive lineman.

"I bounced it to the left, and I remember running up the field and I feel this big presence just chasing me," Barkley said this week. "I go out of bounds and look and it's Fletcher Cox (who is 6-4 and 310 pounds). I'm like, 'There's no reason why this man should be at his size moving that fast.' I had much respect for him before, but that even made it on a whole 'nother level. He's a dominant player, he's competitive. One of my favorite players to play against, to be honest. Throughout the years, I've played him multiple times, and every single time I play against him, his presence is made on the field."

The two players will share the same field tomorrow when the Giants and Eagles square off in the Linc in the first of two meetings in the season's final three weeks. Philadelphia has lost three consecutive games but is 10-4 and has clinched a playoff berth. The Giants are 5-9 and look to finish the season strong. Beating the Eagles, whose recent dominance in the rivalry includes 10 straight victories in Philadelphia, would give them a positive takeaway entering their final two games, both at home (including the finale vs. the Eagles).

One constant the Giants must contend with in these games is the Eagles' defensive front. It is always among the NFL's best, with excellent individual players forming a collective force that can dominate the line of scrimmage and inflict misery on linemen, running backs and quarterbacks.

"One of the top D-lines in the league," left tackle Andrew Thomas said. "Every time we play Philly, we know it's a challenge with the guys they have upfront. They're a very talented group and then they add on every year, they draft well, especially upfront. That's why they're a dominant defense because they have a really good front seven."

"Those guys are unbelievable up front," guard Justin Pugh said. "I played against them last year in Arizona. You have Fletcher Cox, Hall of Famer; Brandon Graham, probably Hall of Famer; you have the young D-tackles from Georgia, Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis, unbelievable players. Philadelphia just brings the defensive line and that's on the offensive line to go out there and battle with them."

Right tackle Tyre Phillips practiced against Philly's front during his six weeks on the Eagles' practice squad before re-signing with the Giants on Oct. 17.

"I've got a lot of respect for the group, not just the guys themselves, but the depth that they have," Phillips said. "Their twos can be ones, their ones can be twos. I know where they're coming from. I know the leaders in the room. I've just got a lot of respect for those guys."

Graham and Cox are the line's elder statesmen, in their 14th and 12th Eagles seasons, respectively. They have combined for 8.0 sacks this season and 143.0 in their careers. Davis is the group's leading tackler with 39, including 2.5 sacks. Outside linebacker Haason Reddick has a team-high 11.0 sacks and Josh Sweat is second with 6.5, plus a team-high 22 quarterback hits. Third-year pro Milton Williams has started nine games and is a steady contributor.

Those six players comprised as good a front as there is in the NFL – and the Eagles still strengthened it with two first-round selections in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Carter, selected ninth, is a constant disruptor with 28 tackles and 5.0 sacks. "He's a star," Phillips said. "He's one of the best guys on the line right now." Linebacker Nolan Smith, taken 30th overall, has had a more limited role, primarily because he plays behind Reddick. Carter, Smith, and Davis are all first-round choices from Georgia.

"Most teams that you play against, there's a clear difference between the starter and the next guy that comes in," Thomas said. "But with their rotation, it's really, 'Who wants to make the play this time?' Because they're all talented. There's really no plays off. There's really no weak link. Sometimes, we play a team, and we can get after this guy when one of their starters goes out. But it's not like that with (the Eagles). We have to be ready all the time."

The Eagles are in the middle of the NFL pack with 39 sacks this season. But the Giants have allowed a league-high 76 sacks, including seven last week in New Orleans.

Cox, 33, is the line's most decorated member. He is a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time first or second-team All-Pro who was selected to the NFL's 2010s All-Decade Team. Cox still impedes an opponent's rushing attack as well as any defensive tackle and is also third on the team with 16 quarterback hits.

"He's impressive," Barkley said. "I don't want to downplay any of those other guys because from left to right, it's pretty impressive. … Fletcher, I don't get it. I don't know how he's still this dominant. But like I said, as a competitor, it's fun. It's fun going out there and lining up and you see 91 (Cox) and you see BG (Graham). You know he's going to be over there chapping from start to finish. These are fun games. Obviously, hasn't been that fun because we've been losing a lot, but as a competitor, those are the games that you want to be a part of. It's going to be a fun, tough game in a tough environment and we've got to all come alive for this game."

As Barkley alluded to, the Eagles have recently controlled the rivalry. In 2022, they became the first team to ever beat the Giants three times in one season (including an NFC Divisional Playoff Game). They have won 11 of the last 13 meetings and each of the last 10 in Lincoln Financial Field, where the Giants last won in 2013.

"Philly's been really good," Pugh said. "They've done a good job. You've got to give a hat off to them. Yeah, we'd love to beat them."

No better time than Christmas Day.

View rare photos of the historic rivalry between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

*The Eagles are the defending NFC champions, but lost to Kansas City in Super Bowl LVII, 38-35. The Giants are 6-21 in regular-season games against teams that lost the previous Super Bowl. They have lost their last four regular-season games vs. runners-up, most recently at Kansas City in 2021. Their last victory against a team that lost the previous Super Bowl was in 2007.

*Tommy DeVito has a chance to be the first rookie quarterback to start and defeat the Eagles since Dallas' Dak Prescott on Oct. 30, 2016. Since then, rookie quarterbacks are 0-8-1 vs. Philadelphia.

The only rookie quarterbacks to start for the Giants vs. Philadelphia in the common draft era (since 1967) are Eli Manning in 2004 and Daniel Jones in 2019 (both lost their only game against the Eagles as rookies.

*The Giants will play on Christmas Day for the first time in franchise history. Philadelphia is 2-0 on Christmas, winning in Dallas in 2006 and against the Oakland Raiders in 2017. The Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers are the only teams with multiple wins and no losses on Christmas Day.

View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 16 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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