When the Giants tangle with the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night, the game will have a familiar feel not only for the combatants on each side, but for the football public.
For the sixth season in a row, a Giants-Eagles game will be showcased on a Sunday night national telecast. With good reason. These teams almost always produce good theater. Seven of the last 10 meetings have been decided by no more than eight points. The teams have played each other 158 times, the fifth-most frequently contested rivalry in NFL history. The Giants lead the regular-season series, 80-72-2, and the postseason series is tied, 2-2.
Coach Tom Coughlin of the Giants and Andy Reid of the Eagles are also longtime rivals. Sunday will be the 18th regular-season game in which they will be on opposite sidelines, matching Coughlin and Jeff Fisher for the most meetings by two active head coaches. Coughlin and Reid have also gone against each other twice in the playoffs.
Coughlin, a former assistant coach for both the Giants and Eagles, has a great appreciation for the rivalry.
"There have been some unbelievable football games played between these two teams," Coughlin said, "when I was here as an assistant and it certainly has continued since I've been here as the head coach. These games are extremely close games, they always are. They're fourth-quarter wins, one way or the other. We talk about hitting the goal post with field goals and I was reflecting on that incredible overtime win down there a few years ago (in 2006). That was just a great, great football game. These games go to the wire, and these teams play hard against each other. It's in the division, it's a rival. It seems like each one of the teams in our division, there's a unique rivalry with each one of these teams. Certainly with the Philadelphia Eagles it is that way, for sure."
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora has been participating in Giants-Eagles skirmishes since 2003.
"It's big. It's huge," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot of animosity between the two teams because of the way some of the games have turned out and they're a good team. They're desperate for a win right now, obviously we're more desperate for a win ourselves, so it's going to be a great game."
Oddly, this has become a rivalry in which the visiting team most often prevails. The Giants have lost five consecutive home games against the Eagles (including one in the 2008 postseason). But they won five of their last seven regular-season games in Lincoln Financial Field, the most recent a 29-16 triumph in 2011.
The Giants have enjoyed success in the Linc despite Philadelphia's notoriously loud and colorful fans.
"It's a great atmosphere, it really is," quarterback Eli Manning said. "It's tough and it's loud. The fans are unique, but it can be a fun place to play, and we have to go in there and have great communication between our offensive linemen. Those guys have to be loud. If we're making checks, making different calls, everybody's got to be on the same page. It makes the experience of playing Philadelphia very interesting."
The stakes are customarily high for a Giants-Eagles game, even one being played in the season's fourth week. The teams have identical 2-1 records and are tied with Dallas atop the NFC East. But the Giants lost to the Cowboys in their opener and hope to avoid their first 0-2 start in division play since way back in 1996.
"I don't think anybody needed any reminders of how important it is in the division and especially this team on the road," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "It's going to be an exciting football game. They've got a lot to play for, we've got a lot to play for and I'm looking forward to it as well as everybody else in this locker room."
Despite their familiarity, these teams manage to pull surprises on each other. Last year in Philadelphia, the underdog Giants won with a huge contribution from Victor Cruz, who had his coming out party with three catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including a 74-yarder.
"We went down there and Vic had done okay in the first two games, but he certainly hadn't played to that ability," Coughlin said. "Then when we went down there, he made the big play down the sideline, made the big jumping catch at the end of the game and that's where it all started and let's hope it keeps going."
Defensively, the Giants must contain Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who leads the NFL with nine turnovers (six interceptions and three lost fumbles), but is a dangerous opponent with both his legs and his arm.
"They're a big play offense," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "When you look at them, they have a lot of playmakers and they spread the ball around a lot, but people have been pressuring them more than when we watch opponents. They normally don't pressure as much, but they've been able to get home."
"He can pass," Umenyiora said of Vick. "He's a good pocket passer also. He's more effective or he's more dangerous when he leaves the pocket. He can make those big plays down the field, so we want to keep him in the pocket. But it's not like he can't beat us from there, too, because he has a very good arm."
It seems as if the stage is set for another memorable Giants-Eagles game under the prime time lights.
"It's pretty crazy," Cruz said. "Obviously, those fans don't like us very much. They make sure we hear it every time we're out there warming up and coming out of the tunnel. On every snap, every play, it's intense. You can cut the tension with a knife in the stadium. It's a great place to play when you're under that pressure and you feel good about it. You want to go out there and make the play."
The Giants will need to make many of them on Sunday.
*Each team has swept the season series 11 times in the last 27 years. The Giants won each game in 1985, 86, 87, 93, 94, 97-2000, 2005 and 2007. Philadelphia swept the series in 1988, 89, 91, 92, 95, 96, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010. The teams split their season series in 1990, 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2011. The Giants are 5-4 in the regular season and 0-1 in postseason play in Lincoln Financial Field
*The Giants are 17-21-1 on Sunday nights, including 9-10-1 on the road. They are 2-3 vs. Philadelphia at night since 2007.
The active coaches with most head to head matchups during regular season as of today:
13: Lovie Smith-Mike McCarthy