EA: Pa. Teams Advance; No Two-Peat for Giants

The National Football League will crown a new champion in February.

After the New York Giants claimed an improbable title following the 2007 season, they couldn't duplicate that success in their new role as favorite. The G-Men turned the ball over three times against the Blitzing Birds and the Philadelphia Eagles scored a 23-11 victory this afternoon at the Meadowlands.

"It all comes down to what you do in the playoffs. That makes your season a good one or a disappointment," said Giants QB Eli Manning, who was intercepted twice against the Eagles. "This is a disappointment.

"We felt this was a special team that could go far. The defense played outstanding today and gave us opportunities. Offensively, we didn't do our job. We didn't score enough points."

Despite holding Donovan McNabb and company to 276 yards of offense, the Giants couldn't muster enough of an offensive attack to move to the NFC Championship Game. The NFC's No. 1 seed only got nine points from its offense (the defense added a safety) and Manning struggled throughout.

New York's NFC representative, which actually outrushed Philly, 138 yards to 59, never was the same offense after it suspended big-play WR Plaxico Burress. And Andy Reid's Eagles, who began the year 5-5-1 and somehow found a way to the dance, might have the magic slipper.

In fact, both the NFL's No. 6 seeds are alive and well. The Ravens gave the Eagles a perfect script to follow the day before Philly's upset, winning at Tennessee, 13-10, by forcing three Titans turnovers. Baltimore was outgained, 391-211, and outplayed at times, but the Ravens were resolute and never beat themselves at LP Field.

And so today must have been a special day for Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. He's not only preparing his unit for the AFC Championship Game but he also met with the Jets and the Rams brass today about their head-coaching vacancies. Ryan, the son of former Jets assistant Buddy Ryan, is a brilliant defensive mind who employs a 3-4 front, which the Jets lined up in the past three seasons.

Ryan, who's been employed by the Ravens the past 10 seasons and spent the last four as the club's defensive coordinator, added assistant head coach to his title before this season.

"I know I'm a great football coach," he said in an Associated Press article this week. "I know I'm a leader of men, especially guys that play this game. That's probably my edge over other people."

Ryan and the Ravens are headed for Pittsburgh next Sunday. The Steelers beat their AFC North rivals twice in the regular season, but the cumulative difference in scores was just seven points.

If there is a favorite in this final four, it might be the Steelers, who topped the Chargers at Heinz Field, 35-24, in today's late game largely due to one of the most dominating quarters you'll ever see.

They ran 24 plays in the decisive third period to the Chargers' one and SD's time of possession read just 17 seconds. That's what an interception and muffed punt will do to you.

Last but not least, let's get to the Arizona Cardinals. I owe the Cards an apology because I just didn't see their 33-13 crushing of the Carolina Panthers coming on Saturday night.

I closed my blog last weekend with the following lines: "Congratulations to the Cardinals, but their playoff stay will be short. The Panthers are waiting in their den for a team that just doesn't play well on the road."

Uh, what? That was just a ludicrous couple of lines and it's a good thing I'm not allowed to go to Vegas. I should have known better. Anything can happen in this league and it usually does. In this case, the Anquan Boldin-less Cards made it happen on defense Saturday night, forcing Panthers QB Jake Delhomme into six turnovers.

So let's get this right. The Panthers, who were perfect at home throughout the regular season, lost to a team that was 0-5 this season when playing in the Eastern Time Zone.

"Not many people had very nice things to say about us and didn't give us a chance," said 'Zona head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "I think we've showed we can come to the East Coast and win a game. ... We believe in ourselves. I like being the underdog, and we're going to continue to be the underdog."

So we're left with three birds — the Eagles, Ravens and Cardinals — and the Steelers. Who's going to be flying when this thing's all said and done?

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