Eagles try to clinch what should already have been clinched

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2001

It shouldn't have come down to this for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Two weeks ago, all they needed was one win or one loss by the Giants to clinch the NFC East. Now, after an ugly loss in San Francisco, and two last-minute wins by New York, things aren't quite as clear.

And with the Giants coming to town, the defense is upset with the offense, the fans are upset with the offense and ...

Philadelphia is getting nervous. Radio stadions are playing interviews with New York's Michael Strahan saying quite politely: ''We like to come down there, because we know they hate us.''

Moreover, the Eagles are getting into one of those offense vs. defense feuds that happen when one unit is carrying the team -- something the Giants know well.

''We're not good enough to beat a good team without playing a complete game: offense, defense and special teams,'' cornerback Troy Vincent said after the Eagles failed to score in San Francisco despite having six shots at a touchdown from within the 2-yard-line.

''You have to score points in the playoffs. Teams that go to the Super Bowl score points. We moved the ball, but we didn't get in the end zone. You have to get in the end zone.''

The Giants have had the same problem all season, one reason they're just 7-7, two games behind the Philadelphia.

But they've put together long drives in the final minutes to pull out wins over the Cardinals and Seahawks. If New York wins out and the Eagles lose their finale in Tampa Bay, the Giants win the division.

That's still unlikely. New York isn't the same team that carried late-season momentum all the way to the Super Bowl a year ago.

Aside from those final drives, the Giants scored only two offensive touchdowns against Arizona and Seattle, teams in the bottom third of the NFL in defense.

So coach Jim Fassel says despite the worries in Philadelphia, the pressure is on the Giants.

''We can't lose. If we lose, we are out of the playoffs,'' he says. ''They've got room to lose one. But I've been in those situations when you get the lead and you have more pressure to win. But we've still got to win.''

The weekend starts Saturday night with Baltimore at Tampa Bay.

In the NFC, the Rams, 49ers, Bears and Packers are already in the playoffs, although no division titles have been decided. The Eagles, Bucs, Giants, Saints and Falcons -- more or less in that order -- are competing for the final two playoff spots.

In the AFC, Oakland, Pittsburgh and New England are in -- the Raiders and Steelers as division champions. The New York Jets can clinch with one more win and win the East with two more, and Miami and Baltimore are a win away from playoff berths.

Sunday's other games are Buffalo at the Jets; Atlanta at Miami; Chicago at Detroit; Arizona at Carolina; San Francisco at Dallas; Minnesota at Green Bay; Cleveland at Tennessee; Kansas City at Jacksonville; Indianapolis at St. Louis; Pittsburgh at Cincinnati; Seattle at San Diego; Oakland at Denver; and Washington at New Orleans.

New England is off.

Buffalo (2-12) at New York Jets (9-5)

Atlanta (7-7) at Miami (9-5)

Despite winning ugly, the Jets are a victory away from clinching a playoff berth and two victories from winning the AFC East. One strange stat: Wayne Chrebet became the first Jets receiver this year to gain more than 100 yards in a game last week in Indianapolis, where Vinny Testaverde had just his second plus-200-yard passing game of the season.

Miami can also clinch a playoff spot with a win, although the Dolphins are at the bottom of a three-team division race. They lost twice to the Jets and split with New England, which already is in and will win the division if New York stumbles.

Atlanta is marginally alive for an NFC spot, but one loss knocks the Falcons out. They played the Bills last week, barely escaping 33-30 on Jay Feely's 52-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.

Pittsburgh (12-2) at Cincinnati (4-10)

Oakland (10-4) at Denver (7-7)

For most of the season, the Raiders seemed on course for home-field advantage in the AFC. But they've lost two of their last four games and the Steelers have won seven straight, so a Pittsburgh win -- either here or at home against the Browns next week -- gives it that important prize.

Oakland's problem, surprisingly, has been offense. It scored just 23 points in its last two games and Sebastian Janikowski, bothered by a groin pull, missed three field goals last week against Tennessee.

The Steelers have remained hot even without Jerome Bettis as Kordell Stewart has emerged from a three-year drought. The defense is clearly Pittsburgh's strength, but the offense has started scoring touchdowns, taking pressure of another kicker with problems -- Kris Brown has missed 14 field-goal tries this year after missing just nine in his first two NFL seasons.

Denver, which hasn't lost at home to the Raiders since 1994, was eliminated last week, the product of injuries that have sidelined key offensive players.

Cincinnati has lost seven straight and now has double-digit defeats in eight of the last 11 seasons.

Chicago (11-3) at Detroit (1-13)

Minnesota (5-9) at Green Bay (10-4)

Both the Bears and Packers are in the playoffs, but Chicago has to keep winning to stay ahead of Green Bay, which inflicted two of the Bears' three losses. If they both finish with the same record, the Packers win the NFC Central and most likely get a first-round bye.

The records make the Chicago-Detroit game look like a mismatch. But the Lions almost won in Chicago on Dec. 2, falling 13-10. And it was just a year ago that a losing Bears team knocked the Lions out of the playoffs on Paul Edinger's last-second field goal in the final regular-season game.

Minnesota is the only team beaten by Detroit and Carolina, each with one win. But the Vikings beat the Packers 35-13 in Minnesota before they lost QB Daunte Culpepper to a knee injury.

Indianapolis (5-9) at St. Louis (12-2)

San Francisco (11-3) at Dallas (4-10)

The 49ers can catch the Rams for the NFC West title, but it's very unlikely. St. Louis, which beat San Francisco twice, needs one win in the last two games, and San Francisco will be relegated to a wild-card spot, likely as the fourth-seeded team in the conference.

The game in St. Louis will be the first time Marshall Faulk has played against his former team. He was traded just before the 1999 draft, in which the Colts took Edgerrin James to replace him.

Of note for Dallas is Emmitt Smith's attempt to become the first NFL player with 11 straight 1,000-yard seasons. He needs 182 yards in two games and also is 16 yards short of becoming the second player ever to gain 16,000 yards.

''The last two games will be based around our running game. He will have a chance to get the football,'' coach Dave Campo says.

Seattle (7-7) at San Diego (5-10)

Washington (6-8) at New Orleans (7-7)

Cleveland (6-8) at Tennessee (7-7)

Kansas City (5-9) at Jacksonville (6-8)

Arizona (6-8) at Carolina (1-13)

The Seahawks and Saints are marginally alive -- one loss or one win by another team from being eliminated.

The rest of these teams are playing for next year and/or to finish at .500 or better.

Notable are the Titans, a preseason AFC favorite who have won seven of 11 after an 0-3 start, and the Redskins, who lost their first five, won their next five, and now have lost three of four.

If the Cardinals win this week and next week in Washington, they will reach .500 for only the third time in the 14 seasons since they moved from St. Louis.

And Seattle is assured of finishing between 9-7 and 7-9 for the 10th time in 14 seasons -- or since the Steve Largent-Curt Warner era.

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