EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - First place in the NFC East will be on the line Sunday when the Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles in New Meadowlands Stadium. Both teams are 9-4. The Giants have won three games in a row since losing in Philadelphia, 27-17, on Nov. 21. The Eagles have won five of their last six games. Philadelphia has won the last five meetings between the teams, including a postseason game two years ago. The Giants lead the regular season series, 79-70-2, and the postseason series is tied, 2-2.
The Eagles have won five of their seven road games. They are 3-1 in the NFC East. Under Andy Reid, Philadelphia is 52-2 when scoring at least 30 points (5-0 this year) and 81-18-1 when holding the opposition to 17 or fewer points (3-1 this year).
Philadelphia's offense is ranked first in the NFL in both yards per game (402.8) and yards per play (6.2). The Eagles are first in the NFL in rushing (146.1 yards a game) and sixth in passing (256.8). They are second in the league in scoring with an average of 28.8 points a game. Philadelphia's plus-15 turnover differential is the NFL's second best (behind New England's plus-18).
The Eagles are loaded with playmakers and it seems someone new steps up for the Eagles every week. Quarterback Michael Vick continues to play at a Pro Bowl level. He has a 7-2 record this season as the Eagles' starting quarterback and his passer rating of 104.3 is second in the NFL behind New England's Tom Brady (109.9). Vick has thrown 17 touchdown passes. He had no turnovers in his first five games, but in the last four he has thrown four interceptions and lost a fumble. Vick is the Eagles' second-leading rusher with 483 yards and seven scores. But Vick has also been taking a beating. He has been sacked 10 times and absorbed numerous other hits in the last four games. Vick doesn't slide in the pocket like many quarterbacks. He will instead take off and run, which is often when he is hit. Vick's backup is Kevin Kolb, who began the season as the starter but suffered a concussion in the opener vs. Green Bay. He is more of a pocket passer than Vick, but he has good touch and velocity.
LeSean McCoy is a difference maker in the mold of former Eagle Brian Westbrook. McCoy has rushed for 972 yards and seven touchdowns and leads the Eagles and all NFL running backs with 70 receptions for 538 yards. He is the only player in the NFL with 900 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. McCoy has excellent vision, outstanding speed and a knack for suddenly changing direction. The Eagles like to use him on screen passes. McCoy reads his blockers well and is a threat to reach the end zone any time he touches the ball. James Harrison has run for 137 yards -- and averages 7.6 yards a carry -- since arriving in a trade with Cleveland. Fullback Owen Schmitt is a tough, competitive blocker who has four catches in the last four games.
Philadelphia starts a pair of speedy young receivers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson is averaging an NFL-best 23.1 yards on 42 catches and has touchdown receptions of 88 and 91 yards (the latter last week in Dallas, where he totaled 210 yards on only four catches). One of the league's premier difference makers, Jackson has rare speed and a quick release from the line. The Eagles like to use him on gadget plays and he has 15 rushing attempts for 104 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown. Jackson reaches his top speed quickly, runs good routes and picks up chunks of yardage after catching the ball. He did not practice Wednesday because of a foot injury but is expected to play. Maclin, the Eagles' most targeted receiver the last three games, leads the team with eight touchdown receptions. Because opposing teams have been so focused on covering Jackson and Maclin deep, Jason Avant has gotten more opportunities on short and intermediate routes. He is Philadelphia's best blocking wide receiver and a frequent target in the red zone. Rookie Riley Cooper is the fourth wide receiver. Chad Hall is another wideout who gets the call on gadget plays.
Tight end Brent Celek had been more involved in the passing game of late, but after catching seven passes the previous two weeks, he had no receptions at Dallas. Celek plays in all the tight end groupings and is a tough point-of-attack blocker. Rookie Clay Harbor has replaced Garrett Mills as the No. 2 tight end.
Philadelphia has started four different offensive line combinations because of injuries, including center Jamaal Jackson's season-ending torn triceps suffered in the opener. Jackson has been replaced by third-year pro Mike McGlyn, a smart and alert player on both the run and pass. Left tackle Jason Peters is consistently playing at a high level. Left guard Todd Herremans is a solid pro who plays with quickness and strength. He caught a touchdown pass last week in Dallas. Nick Cole (six starts) and Max Jean-Gilles (seven) have split time at right guard all season. Cole started the first game against the Giants. He is smart, competitive and aggressive. Jean-Gilles started the last two games and is expected to do so on Sunday. He is a powerful player with excellent strength at the point of attack. Right tackle Winston Justice was inactive last week because of a triceps injury and was replaced by King Dunlap, who started two games on the left side earlier this season.
The Eagles' young defense (five regulars with 12 or fewer career starts) is ranked 12th in the league, allowing 327.8 yards a game. Philadelphia is 11th against the run (103.5) and 17th vs. the pass (224.3). The Eagles are 20th in scoring defense, giving up 23.7 points per game. Philly is ranked last in the NFL in red zone defense, allowing a touchdown on 77.8 percent of opposition forays inside the 20-yard line (28 of 36). On the plus side, the Eagles have an NFL-high 22 interceptions and are tied for the league lead with 30 takeaways.
Two key defensive players suffered injuries last week. Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who had started all but one game and is second on the team with 88 tackles, dislocated his elbow and is sidelined indefinitely. Rookie Jamar Chaney will replace him. First-round draft choice Brandon Graham, who had started six games and had three sacks this season, was placed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL against the Cowboys.
Philadelphia's defensive line is a relentless unit that plays to the whistle on every snap. The Eagles frequently rotate their linemen and everyone gets a chance to play. Tackles Mike Patterson and Antonio Dixon are rugged run stoppers. Patterson has never missed a game in his six-year career. He locates the ball quickly and has good range against the run. Dixon has started the last eight games after taking over for Brodrick Bunkley at right tackle. Dixon has good leverage and is strong on contact. Bunkley and Trevor Laws get their share of snaps. Right end Trent Cole leads the team with 9.0 sacks and the defensive linemen with 69 tackles (49 solo). He is Philadelphia's best defender, but has no sacks in four of his last five games. Veteran Juqua Parker is the starter at left end, but the improving Darryl Tapp is getting more playing time.
The Eagles' linebackers are physical and will attack the run. Weakside backer Ernie Sims is a relentless, reckless and violent player who has a mean streak. Moise Fokou starts on the strong side, where he is difficult to block in the run game. He is removed in the sub defenses. Chaney was a seventh-round draft choice this year, but he gets the nod in the middle over veteran Omar Gaither, who was inactive last week.
Cornerback Asante Samuel leads the NFL with seven interceptions despite missing the last three games with a knee injury he suffered against the Giants (a game in which he had two picks and a fumble recovery). Samuel is expected to return to left corner this week. If he doesn't play, Joselio Hanson will again start in his place. In that scenario, Hanson moves inside rookie Trevard Lindley as the left corner in the nickel. Dimitri Patterson has started the last six games at right cornerback after Ellis Hobbs played the first seven. Hobbs is on injured reserve. Patterson, who has four interceptions this season, is an aggressive corner with short-area quickness. He takes good angles, closes fast and is a sure tackler in space. Strong safety Quinton Mikell is the quarterback of the defense and the unit's most consistent player and leading tackler with 97 (74 solo). He is a tough, hard-nosed player against both the run and pass. Mikell also has speed and range and is playing extremely well. The free safety is rookie Nate Allen, who has good coverage skills.
Four-time Pro Bowler David Akers, now in his 12th season as the Eagles' kicker, leads the NFL with 29 field goals (on 34 attempts) and 126 points, 17 more than runner up Matt Bryant of Atlanta. Akers had a season-long 50-yard field goal last week in Dallas. He is also third in the league with 22 touchbacks. Punter Sav Rocca is having a career year with a 44.8-yard gross average and a 39.3-yard net average. He has placed 21 punts inside the 20 and has only two touchbacks. The always-dangerous Jackson has returned every punt since the first Giants games. Rookie Jorrick Calvin is averaging 22.6 yards on 27 kickoff returns.