- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

Remembering how they were manhandled less than a month before by the Philadelphia Eagles and seeing the recent form of Donovan McNabb and Brian Dawkins, the New York Giants settled in for last weekend’s playoff games with a growing realization of what would be their next roadblock to a repeat Super Bowl title.

“To be honest, I think a lot of us were kind of already mentally preparing for Philly,” center Shaun O’Hara said.

O’Hara and Co. got what they expected when Philadelphia downed Minnesota 26-14 to set up the NFC East rubber match at 1 p.m. Sunday at Giants Stadium.

The Giants (12-4) and Eagles (10-6-1) are no strangers. Each of this week’s four games is a rematch from the 2008 regular season, but these two teams take it to another level, eliminating the element of schematic surprise but inviting the intrigue of how the coordinators will try to seize an advantage.

Since the start of 2005, New York and Philadelphia have played nine times - the annual home-and-home games plus the Eagles’ 23-20 wild-card win in January 2007. The Giants hold a 6-3 advantage.

“It definitely makes it a lot more personal,” Giants receiver Amani Toomer said. “There is nothing we can hide. There is nothing that they can really hide.”

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Eagles coach Andy Reid can’t present much the other hasn’t already seen - Spagnuolo previously was on Philadelphia’s staff. And Giants play caller Kevin Gilbride and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson have faced each other numerous times.

Reid said it’s important for his staff not to think they have a read on the Giants.

“You have to put that aside,” he said. “Every game is different, and if you come in saying you know the New York Giants, I think you make a huge mistake in the process of getting ready to play them. … Every game there is a little something different. There’s always that extra little change that you put in, so it makes every game different, and that’s why you have to go through the process. Right when you think you know them like the back of your hand…”

Division showdowns in the playoffs aren’t rare. Since the eight-division format was introduced in 2002, division rivals have faced each other seven times in the postseason. And from 1990 - when the 12-team postseason was instituted - to 2001, division foes faced each other 25 times.

Twenty-one of those 32 games featured teams that had split their two regular-season meetings.

Nearly a third of the teams (eight) completed the three-game sweep by winning the postseason matchup, including the Giants in 2000 over Philadelphia.

Four teams lost both regular-season games but got revenge in the playoffs (and on the road): Minnesota (2004 vs. Green Bay), Arizona (1998 vs. Dallas), Chicago (1994 vs. Minnesota) and the Giants (last year vs. Dallas).

That puts New York on guard for Philadelphia. While the Cowboys defeated New York by a combined 21 points in last year’s regular season, both Eagles-Giants games this year were competitive.

New York won in Philadelphia 36-31, outgaining the Eagles in total offense 401-300 and holding a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession.

The Eagles gained revenge with a 20-14 thumping at the Meadowlands, outgaining New York 331-211, holding the ball for nearly 10 minutes longer and going 12-for-18 on third down.

“It seems like every game we’ve played, we’ve come down to the fourth quarter and a few plays decide whether you win or lose,” Manning said. “We’ve just had a mix of all sorts of different types of games, but it’s always a physical game.”

Added Giants defensive end Justin Tuck: “I don’t know if I can put it on the level with the Cowboys. But there isn’t going to be any love lost when we kick it off on Sunday.”

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