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  • Game info: 4:30 pm EST Sun Jan 4, 2009
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Six weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles weren’t even thinking about the playoffs, as they tied a game and had their star quarterback benched in successive weeks. While it wasn’t looking promising at the time, those events proved to be pivotal in getting the Eagles to the postseason.

In Sunday’s NFC wild-card game, Philadelphia looks to carry its strong regular-season finish into the playoffs as it visits the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings, who are also surging into the postseason.

The Eagles (9-6-1) are making their seventh playoff appearance in nine years, but this one happened after a chain of surprising results in Week 17. Philadelphia avoided elimination when Oakland upset Tampa Bay and Houston beat Chicago in the early games. The Eagles then completed their unlikely journey to the playoffs with a 44-6 victory over Dallas to clinch the final NFC wild-card spot.

“A lot of people counted us out and said it was over,” quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “We continued to stay focused on what the plan was. Things worked out well and we’re playing next week.”

Philadelphia scored a franchise-record 416 points and enters the playoffs with victories in four of its last five games, outscoring opponents by an average of 23.0 points in those wins. This surge comes right after a disappointing stretch.

In Week 11 at Cincinnati, the Eagles and Bengals tied 13-all. With 90 seconds left in overtime, coach Andy Reid chose to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles 22, basically playing for the tie. Reid was criticized for the move at the time, but the tie ended up being the difference in the final standings, as Philadelphia finished a half-game ahead Dallas, Chicago and Tampa Bay for the NFC’s final playoff spot.

A week later, Reid benched a shaky McNabb for an inexperienced Kevin Kolb at halftime of a 10-7 game at Baltimore. It was the first time the five-time Pro Bowl quarterback got yanked from a game in his career, and the Eagles went on to lose 36-7.

Philadelphia dropped to 5-5-1 at that time with its playoff hopes looking bleak.

McNabb was back in the lineup the next week for the Eagles’ 48-20 win over Arizona on Thanksgiving, and has been carrying the team since his benching.

McNabb completed 64.3 percent of his passes, threw nine touchdowns, one interception and lost one fumble in his final five games after he completed 47.4 percent of his passes, threw one touchdown, five interceptions and lost two fumbles in the previous two.

“It’s an exciting time for us right now, but we can’t sit and dwell on this for a long time,” said McNabb, who finished with 3,916 passing yards, breaking his own single-season team record for yards passing. “We know we have a tough team ahead of us, a tough task.”

The Vikings (10-6) have also had a turbulent season, and they also seem to be peaking at the right time.

Minnesota opened the season with back-to-back losses, leading to the benching of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, and took a 3-4 record into their bye week. The Vikings rebounded by winning five of their last six games, including last Sunday’s 20-19 win over the New York Giants to capture their first playoff berth since 2004 and first division title since 2000.

Last Sunday’s game wasn’t easy, though, as Minnesota trailed 19-10 in the fourth quarter before Bernard Berrian’s 54-yard touchdown reception from Jackson and Ryan Longwell’s game-winning 50-yard field goal as time expired.

“This season has been like a rollercoaster, up and down,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “As a team we were able to overcome adverse situations. That’s one thing I always pray about before going out there on the field, is to help us to be able to overcome adverse situations as a team and to continue to fight.”

With some inconsistent quarterback play, Peterson has carried Minnesota’s offense.

Peterson won the NFL rushing title with 1,760 yards and will likely be joined again in the backfield by Jackson, who has started Minnesota’s last three games for the injured Gus Frerotte (back). Jackson has done a solid job as Frerotte’s replacement, throwing for 635 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in the last three weeks.

Peterson has run for 449 yards on 93 carries in four games this month, but has had trouble holding onto the ball, fumbling five times in those games. He was held to 70 yards on 20 carries in last season’s 23-16 home loss to Philadelphia, as McNabb threw for 333 yards and one touchdown.

The Eagles have the league’s fourth-best rush defense (92.3 yards per game), and are tied for fifth in the league with 14 defensive fumble recoveries. They forced two fumbles last week against the Cowboys and returned both for touchdowns.

The Vikings boast the league’s top-ranked rush defense for the third straight season—the longest such streak for any team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger—but they may be without a big piece of their front line again.

Three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Pat Williams broke a bone in his right shoulder in Minnesota’s 35-14 win at Arizona in Week 15, and has missed the last two games. Coach Brad Childress said Williams will “try to make that push to this weekend” but was noncommittal about whether he would be able to suit up Sunday.

Williams has clearly been missed, as the Vikings have given up 233 rushing yards in their last two games after limiting opponents to an average of 71.2 yards in their first 14.

This is Minnesota’s first playoff appearance since 2004, when it defeated Green Bay in a wild-card game before losing to the Eagles 27-14 in the divisional playoffs.

Philadelphia has won its first playoff game each of its last six times in the postseason, while Minnesota has won its first game in the playoffs five straight times.

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