Instead, both teams will be trying to avoid falling into sole possession of last place in the division when they meet at Giants Stadium.
The Eagles lost in the NFC championship game the last two years, and only a trip to Houston for the Super Bowl next January was to be considered a success this time.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb has struggled this season. The three-time Pro Bowler is 82-of-167 for 790 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. His completion percentage (49.1) is worst among all starting quarterbacks and his passer rating (54.2) and average yards per attempt (4.73) are second-worst to Baltimore rookie Kyle Boller.
“It’s not all about Donovan,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “There’s playcalls. There’s protection issues. There’s guys having an opportunity to catch the football and making the catch and so on.”
After two straight wins temporarily halted the criticism of an 0-2 start, the Eagles relapsed in Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the surprising Dallas Cowboys.
There was some questionable play-calling, including an onsides kick on the opening kickoff that was returned by Dallas’ Randal Williams for a 37-yard touchdown, and more players were injured, but of most concern for Philadelphia is McNabb’s play.
His production hasn’t been helped by the right thumb he sprained in the Sept. 29 victory over Buffalo. McNabb played against the Cowboys with a wrapping around his thumb that extended to his wrist. He struggled, often overthrowing his targets, and finished 11-for-26 for 126 yards—his lowest total in a season where he hasn’t thrown for more than 186.
However, though the thumb causes pain, McNabb says it’s not severe enough to consider sitting out a week or two.
With no consistent downfield playmakers, the Eagles are facing more man coverage and are repeatedly blitzed. The Cowboys sacked McNabb three times and the defensive schemes made finding open receivers even harder.
“We’ll get this thing rolling back in the right direction,” Reid said.
The schedule gives the Eagles hope, as they open a stretch of three straight games against teams with losing records—the Giants, Jets and Atlanta.
The Giants also began the season with lofty goals, especially after winning seven of their last nine games last year. They won two of their first three games this year, but have been terrible since a bye in Week 4.
New York has been outscored 40-16 in losses to Miami and New England, including 17-6 to the Patriots on Sunday.
Although the Giants outgained the Patriots 199-29 in the first half, they trailed 7-3 and were limited to one first down. New York committed five turnovers—two on its first three plays, including a fumble by Tiki Barber that was returned 38 yards for a touchdown—and did not score a touchdown.
Barber has four fumbles this season, and his 30 since the 2000 season are the most in the NFL among non-quarterbacks in that period. Three of his fumbles this season have resulted in turnovers.
“I am very confident in my abilities as a football player and I know everyone around me is as well,” Barber said. “It’s just a matter of going to work and doing my job and focusing in on the little things.”
Barber said he isn’t going to change his running style, but might change the way he holds the ball, especially after watching videotapes with coach Jim Fassel.
“As soon as you start changing who you are, you lose yourself as a player,” Barber said Wednesday. “You don’t become as effective.”
Barber’s fumbling isn’t the only problem for the Giants. Quarterback Kerry Collins has thrown seven interceptions in the last two games.
“I am always concerned when we are not winning and his numbers are not where he wants them to be at quarterback,” Fassel said. “I am not concerned from the standpoint of the way he has handled things; he is calm on the sideline, he never seems to get rattled.”
Collins will face an Eagles defensive backfield that could get a boost if Bobby Taylor returns to the lineup. The Pro Bowl cornerback has not played since the season opener due to a strained left foot, but was back at practice this week and reported no soreness on Thursday.
New York’s secondary, on the other hand, will be missing one of its starters. The team learned Thursday it may be without cornerback Will Peterson for the rest of the season due to a stress fracture in his lower back.
Neither team can afford a loss in this game, as the loser will fall three games behind in the division if first-place Dallas beats Detroit.
Philadelphia won three straight meetings before a loss in the season finale last year.