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Eye on the Eagles: Breaking Down the Matchup


*'s Michael Eisen scouts the opposing Offense, Defense, and Special Teams: *

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants can clinch a postseason berth Thursday night, but to do so, they must defeat one of their oldest and fiercest rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, in Lincoln Financial Field.

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Winners of eight of their last nine games, the Giants are 10-4 and looking to sweep the Eagles for the first time since 2007. They defeated Philadelphia on Nov. 6 in MetLife Stadium, 28-23. Since starting the season 3-0, the Eagles have lost nine of 11 games, including their last five. The Giants lead the regular-season series, 83-78-2, and are 6-7 in regular-season games in the Linc.

What is the Eagles' biggest strength?

Despite their well-publicized snapping issues two weeks ago against Washington, it's their special teams, which are very talented across the board. They seem to make a big play every game to set up or prevent a score. Philadelphia is first in the NFL with a 28.5-yard kickoff return average, and second with a 12.9-yard punt return average. Darren Sproles has nine career return touchdowns, including seven on punts. The Giants must cover and tackle well to prevent a game-turning play. Kicker Caleb Sturgis is fifth in the NFL with 120 points and has made 32 of 37 field goal attempts, including four of six from 50 or more yards. Donnie Jones holds most of the Eagles career punting records. Chris Maragos (12 special teams tackles) and Najee Goode (10) are just two of the many players who excel in coverage.

Which player is key to the Eagles' offense?

Quarterback Carson Wentz. The rookie has plateaued a bit since his sensational start. But if he gets into a rhythm early – and has decent protection and help from Eagles' rushing attack – he can cut up a defense. Wentz will welcome back one of his chief protectors, tackle Lane Johnson, who missed the previous 10 games while serving an NFL suspension. Philly was 3-1 early this season with Johnson in the lineup. When the Giants first saw Wentz last month, he had thrown nine touchdown passes and three interceptions. Since then, he's thrown for four scores and 10 picks. With more time to throw, Wentz will look to get back to the numbers he posted earlier.

What is the strength of the Eagles' offense?

They pound the rock. Last week, Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson returned to his preferred ball-control offense. The Eagles tied their season-high with 38 rushing attempts (for 169 yards) and wore down a Baltimore defense that seldom endures that experience. They owned the ball for 36:38 (for the second straight game). Ryan Mathews is a top-tier running back who is averaging 4.5 yards a carry and has rushed for eight touchdowns, despite missing two games with a knee injury. He ran for 128 yards last week vs. the Ravens – who have the league's No. 2 rush defense - the third-highest total of his career. The Eagles like to feed him the ball in the red zone. And Sproles – 4.7 yards-per-carry – has touchdown potential every time he touches the ball.

Which player is key to the Eagles' defense?

Tackle Fletcher Cox, who can singlehandedly wreck an offense's execution. Cox was just selected to his second Pro Bowl. An immovable run defender, Cox leads the Eagles with 6.5 sacks, including 2.5 the previous two weeks. Opposing players must know where Cox is at all times. He teams with end Brandon Graham to give the Eagles a lethal left side of the defensive front.

What is the strength of the Eagles' defense?

The front four. In addition to Cox and Graham, the right side – tackle Bennie Logan and end Connor Barwin – is no bargain for an offense. Each lineman is a disruptive player who uses strength and leverage to control the line of scrimmage.

Which player is key to the Eagles' special teams?

Sproles. Although he has just one kickoff return this year, he is a recurring nightmare for all opponents. Sproles' 13.2-yard punt return average would place him second in the league if he had enough runbacks to qualify for the league statistics. He has just 17, the longest which he returned 66 yards. The Giants will try to keep the ball out of his hands.

Based on the Eagles' scouting report, the Giants must do this one thing to win:

On offense, run the ball well and stay balanced. Defensively, stop the run and force the Eagles out of balance by making them turn to Wentz's passes. And limit Philadelphia's special teams.

Statistics you should know:

1) The Eagles lead the NFL with an average time of possession of 32:29.

2) On Dec. 4 and 11 against Cincinnati and Washington, Wentz became the first rookie in NFL history with 30+ completions and 300+ passing yards in consecutive games.

3) Sproles is the only player in NFL history with at least 15 rushing touchdowns (21), at least 25 receiving touchdowns (29), and at least five punt return touchdowns (seven).

A look at the expected starters for the Giants' Week 16 opponent

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