The Philadelphia Eagles, given the NFC’s only playoff bye, were able to enjoy watching football over the weekend like the rest of America, and now it’s time to prove they deserve to be a heavy favorite as the No. 1 seed playing the New York Giants.
The Eagles, who beat the Giants twice this season — including in the final regular-season game just two weeks ago — were listed by all of Pennsylvania’s online sportsbooks Tuesday morning as 7.5-point favorites for their home game Saturday night.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs are favored by more (8.5 points over the Jacksonville Jaguars) among the four divisional round games being played this weekend.
Two prior wins over Giants, but …
While the Eagles beat the Giants twice on their way to a franchise record of 14 regular-season wins, it’s hard to make much of the 22-16 win on Jan. 8 when New York rested quarterback Daniel Jones and running back Saquon Barkley while already locked into its playoff position.
The more impressive 48-22 win at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 11 also carries a cautionary note from the Giants having had three defensive starters sidelined by injury for the game dominated by Philadelphia, which had 235 rushing yards.
Jalen Hurts was stellar in that first meeting, less so in the second, when he was returning from a sprained shoulder that forced him to miss two games the Eagles lost late in the regular season. The extra week to rest that shoulder due to the Eagles gaining the bye presumably was helpful for this Saturday’s encounter.
🦅He is the third QB ever with 3,500+ passing yards, 20+ TD passes and 10+ rushing TDs in single season.
🏃🏽♂️He has the 2nd-most games with 2+ rushing TDs by a QB in @NFL history. pic.twitter.com/ATZXuFHneC
— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) January 16, 2023
The Giants became the Eagles’ opponent by upsetting the Vikings in Minnesota Sunday, 31-24, in a game in which Jones shined. He was the first playoff quarterback in history to combine throwing for at least 300 passing yards and two touchdowns with rushing for more than 70 yards.
Barkley, meanwhile, ran for two TDs and also caught five passes for 56 yards.
Healthy Hurts should make a difference
Though the Giants have had an unexpectedly strong season under first-year coach Brian Daboll, all the Eagles have to do is return to what they were doing before Hurts’ December injury slowed them down.
That includes the running of Miles Sanders, who scampered for 144 yards and two scores in the first Eagles-Giants game, and the consistently excellent numbers put up by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, now joined again by Dallas Goedert, who missed that first encounter. The lack of similar receiving threats on the Giants’ side is the biggest difference between the two teams’ offenses.
Meanwhile, on defense the Eagles led the league in sacks while New York’s offensive line allowed among the most sacks. The Giants defense had success slowing down the Vikings by heavily pressuring quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday, but he has nowhere near Hurts’ level of mobility.
Saturday’s key could be Hurts overcoming any lingering shoulder issues and playing at the level of this season’s first game against New York, when he accounted for two passing TDs and another one rushing, as opposed to the second, with no passing TDs and just 13 rushing yards.
The Giants haven’t won a game at Lincoln Financial Field since 2013, and if Hurts is performing again at his MVP level, he very likely keeps that streak intact, just as the oddsmakers predict.
For those counting on Philly to advance beyond Saturday, the best futures bets on the Eagles can be placed with Caesars Sportsbook using +165 to win the NFC (the most common return is +150) and +550 to win the Super Bowl (other sites use +475 or +500).
Photo: Eric Hartline/USA TODAY