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Week 18: Wild Card Weekend Picks, Part III

Eagles vs. Giants
Teams Meet for Third Time

Sunday, Jan. 7
N.Y. Giants (8-8) at Philadelphia (10-6), 4:30 p.m.
Jeff Garcia resurrected the Philadelphia Eagles, and they're the hottest team in the NFC, having won their last five. The New York Giants are one of the few teams that needed a win last week, and they beat a poor Washington Redskins team, which isn't saying much, but it's more than a lot of teams did.
There is no real home-field advantage, as their respective stadiums are less than 100 miles apart. But, for what it's worth, Philadelphia is 5-3 at home. New York is 5-3 on the road.

Garcia will be the story if Philly wins. Since taking over for the injured Donovan McNabb, Garcia has posted a 95.8 passer rating with 10 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. Discount his first and last games (he played only briefly in the last), he had three straight games of 100-plus ratings and two games of 90-plus. But his 61.2 percent completions is a little low. New York has the fifth worst passing defense, and Garcia should have a good day. Outside of Sam Madison, New York doesn't have much in the defensive backfield.

Brian Westbrook has had a pretty good season, and he should pretty well against New York's middle of the road rushing defense.

Regardless of Garcia, Tiki Barber will be the story of the game. If New York loses, Barber's career is (allegedly) over. If they win, it will be something of a victory tour for the rest of the playoffs. And he should have a great day, and that may carry New York. This is not the smothering Philadelphia defense of days of yore. They're seventh worst against the rush.

The other story will be Eli Manning, and not just because his brother won Saturday. Manning has been shaky, at best, lately, and Philly has a top 10 passing defense. Led by cornerback Lito Sheppard and safety Brian Dawkins, they can concentrate on Plaxico Burress. Tight end Jeremy Shockey is listed as "questionable" (ankle) and New York doesn't have any other impact receivers.

In these teams' two meetings this season, the road team won both> New York won the Week 3 matchup, 30-24, and Philadelphia took the rematch, 36-22. That game little resembled my analysis here, as Manning threw for 282 yards to Garcia's 237, Philly held Barber to 75 yards, and Westbrook ran for 97, while Correll Buckhalter added 48. Philly led 14-13 entering the final quarter and outscored New York 22-9 in those 15 minutes.

Prediction: Eagles, 31-20.

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