NFC: Donovan's Birds, Tarvaris' Vikes Do Battle

Newyorkjets.com will profile each playoff game in this NFL postseason, with a special eye on Jets angles in each of the matchups. Today: the NFC Wild Card Game being played Sunday afternoon:

(6) PHILADELPHIA (9-6-1) at (3) MINNESOTA (10-6), 4:30 p.m. EST, FOX

Storylines

Impressive victories in their regular-season finales have swept the Eagles and Vikings and their scuffling quarterbacks into the postseason for today's wrapup to Wild Card Weekend.

For the Birds and Donovan McNabb, this was a difficult road. Coach Andy Reid benched McNabb, his longtime starter at halftime of a Week 12 loss at Baltimore. McNabb responded with six TD drives in a rout of Arizona and three straight wins.

Then came a seeming death knell, the 10-3 loss at Washington. But in the finale against Dallas, the Eagles stepped over the Cowboys to grab that sixth seed with a 44-6 rout.

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

The Vikings' straits were less dire, although they either needed to beat the Giants or have the Bears lose at Houston, and heading into the fourth quarters of their simultaneous games, the Vikes were losing and the Bears were in striking distance.

But Tarvaris Jackson (who lost the starting QB gig for 11 games before regaining it for the last three due to Gus Frerotte's aching back) hit Bernard Berrian with a TD strike and Ryan Longwell nailed a 50-yard field goal as time expired to forge a 20-19 win over the Giants, NFC top seed and defending Super Bowl champ — and never mind that David Carr, not Eli Manning, quarterbacked the entire second half for Big Blue.

"This season has been like a rollercoaster, up and down," said Minnesota featured back Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher. "As a team we were able to overcome adverse situations."

Statistical Picture

Peterson, who led the NFC in rushing last season, leads the NFL this time with 1,760 yards (4.8-yard avg.) and 10 TDs. But he's fumbled nine times — most by any back in the last five NFL seasons.

That brawny Vikings run defense will be tough to move on with DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams forming one 628-pound immovable object in the middle of the line (although PW is still struggling with a shoulder injury). Then if and when the run is stopped, DE Jared Allen (tied for fifth in the league with 14.5 sacks) could turn up the heat in the pocket for McNabb.

And the Eagles would be best advised not to leave the game up to Longwell, who's gone 6-for-6 from 50-plus this year.

For Philly's offense, Brian Westbrook (936 yards rushing, 402 receiving) continues to be a multiple threat, although second-round rookie DeSean Jackson has impressed with his 62 catches for 912 yards and a punt-return TD to boot.

To harass Tarvaris, the Eagles will apply blitz pressure with DE Darren Howard (10 sacks), LB Trent Cole (9) and S Brian Dawkins, which will help Asante Samuel ballhawk — he came down from the Patriots to man the corner and has contributed four interceptions and a TD return.

Philadelphia finished the regular-season with seven NFL top-10 yardage/point rankings: total offense (9th), pass offense (6th), scoring offense (6th), total defense (3rd), rush defense (4th), pass defense (3rd) and scoring defense (4th).

Minnesota finished with three top-10 rankings, headed by their No. 1 ranking in run defense for the third consecutive season. They are also fifth in rush offense and sixth in total defense. They had one bottom-10 ranking, in pass defense (25th).

In turnover margin, the Eagles are plus-3 overall and minus-5 on the road. The Vikings, meanwhile, are minus-6 overall and minus-4 at home.

Playoff Histories

The Eagles have beaten the Vikings twice in the City of Brotherly Love in postseason play. The first time was 1980, when the Birds were on their way to Super Bowl XV and pulled away from Minnesota, 31-16, in the NFC Division Round.

Then in 2004 the Birds were proceeding to another Super Bowl, XXXIX, with the help of another solid home divisional win over the Vikes, that one by 27-14, helped them continue.

That game, in fact, was Minnesota's last playoff game until Sunday. The Vikings are 18-24 all-time in the postseason, including their four Super Bowl losses.

Philadelphia is 17-17 all-time in the postseason, including 3-1 in four NFL title games from 1947-60 and 0-2 in their two SB appearances.

Jet Fuel

No players with Jets ties are in this game, unless you count Dan Klecko, Philly's starting FB and the son, of course, of Jets D-line great Joe Klecko.

The coaching connections are also thin but there's one big name that jumps off the Philadelphia staff — Otis Smith, in his first season as an NFL coach, is the Birds' assistant secondary coach. He was the Jets' starting RCB with 45 starts in 1995 and 1997-99.

As for a rooting interest, that's a tough one. Based on playing the Eagles in the final preseason "friendly" eight consecutive years, and their green uniforms, perhaps there's a Philly bias. But the Jets have also never beaten the Eagles in the regular-season, going 0-8. But the Jets have handled Minnesota over the years, winning seven of eight. And there was that trade in 2006 that sent Brooks Bollinger to the Vikings for C.J. Mosley, who's become a pretty good rotational D-lineman ...

In other words, Jets fans, you're on your own for this one.

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