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News » Wild-card trend favors Eagles

Wild-card trend favors Eagles

Wild-card trend favors Eagles
Eagles coach Andy Reid can't explain it, and perhaps no one can, but recently the road to conference championship games and the Super Bowl has been smoother for wild-card teams.

Two of the last three Super Bowl champions - the New York Giants last season and Pittsburgh in 2005 - reached the postseason as wild-card teams.

Moreover, the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts of 2006 won a division title but didn't get a bye and had to play in the wild-card round.

In other words, all three teams had to win three games to get to the Super Bowl.

Before 2005, only three wild-card teams had ever won the Super Bowl, so the days when a team that received a first-round bye seemed to have a significant advantage are gone. At least for now.

"It probably just goes in cycles," Reid said.

What this means for the Eagles remains to be seen, of course. But at least they can perceive their task as something that's not insurmountable as they prepare for Sunday's second-round game against the Giants at Giants Stadium.

The Eagles took the side door into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC. As the top seed, the Giants had a bye.

"The one advantage of having time off is that you give your guys an opportunity to rest, and get the injured ready," Reid said yesterday, less than 24 hours after he ran his record in first-round playoff games to 7-0 with a 26-14 win over Minnesota.

"The old trend showed that it mattered, and the new trend shows that it doesn't matter, so who knows?" he said. "You just take each game by itself."

If Reid had his druthers, he'd have switched places with the Giants and welcomed the chance for his star running back, Brian Westbrook, to have an extra week to rest his balky knee.

Westbrook's knee seemed just fine as he weaved through the Vikings on his 71-yard run with a screen pass that gave the Eagles a 23-14 lead with 6 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Sunday.

But instead, the Giants had the luxury of resting their leading running back, the bruising Brandon Jacobs, who was slowed late in the season by a knee problem.

Reid said Westbrook's knee was sore but no worse for wear than it had been the day after most games this season. As usual, Reid will go easy with Westbrook as the Eagles prepare for the Giants, especially if the Eagles practice indoors on the harder surface.

Westbrook has also been bothered most of the season by a high ankle sprain.

"He's had a knee that bothers him," Reid said. "We knew that when he came here as a rookie. He'd had a couple surgeries on the knee, so with age and time and games played, you've got to manage that the right way.

"And he's got to be very honest with us. He shoots us straight. He wants to practice every snap, but at the same time, you've got to understand you can't do that, in particular when we're practicing inside."

To conserve his team physically and mentally, Reid indicated that he would likely shorten Thursday's practice, as he did last week.

"It's important the guys that are banged up a little bit get their treatment," Reid said. Head trainer Rick Burkholder "does as good a job as anybody in the National Football League at rehabbing guys and getting them ready to play."

Last season, the Giants stunned the Football world by defeating Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay to get to the Super Bowl, and then knocked off a New England team that was trying to finish undefeated. By doing so, the Giants realized the cliche that anything can happen in the playoffs.

The Eagles can also hang their helmets on the fact that the Giants of last season and Steelers of '05 were difficult to run against, a characteristic of wild-card teams that have recently gone far in the playoffs.

The Giants ranked eighth against the run last season. The Steelers were third in '05. The Eagles are fourth.

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 6, 2009

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