THEY MET in happier times. It was the second week of the season, and the Giants and the Eagles waged a spirited battle, New York scoring 23 unanswered points to win in overtime. Seems like a million years ago. Some of the heroes of that day, Amani Toomer with his 12 catches, Donovan McNabb with his 350 passing yards, have been lost for the year. Now the Giants and the Eagles seem like battered old warriors climbing into the ring for still another go. It's like Larry Holmes and George Foreman facing off‚Äîat age 50. Yet, after winning on Sunday, both teams are alive in the wild-card race, sitting at 7--6 in a conference in which 9--7 should be good enough. Jeff Garcia, replacing McNabb, has shown some of the flash that once made him a Pro Bowl passer. New York has gotten a spark from rookie defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.
The September battle was a shootout, with neither side running for serious yardage. I think it will be different this week. The Eagles have been peculiarly vulnerable to the run: Three backs rushed for well over 100 yards against them in the last four games. That's an invitation for the Giants' Tiki Barber to have a banner day.
Teams usually are careful about blitzing Eli Manning, but Carolina sent multiple rushers at him, and he had all sorts of problems, surviving only because the Panthers secondary was torn up by injuries. I think Philly's defensive coach, Jim Johnson, will study that tape and decide to send the beasts. The Giants will counter with Barber. I'll go with New York, expecting Barber to get around 160 yards.
In the midst of an inglorious handicapping season, I am returning to my trap formula. Denver logically should be a six-point favorite over Arizona but opened at 2--2 1/2. The oddsmakers are begging everyone to go Broncos. I like Arizona. Jacksonville, coming off that thunderous victory over the Colts, should be a five- or six-point favorite over the Titans, Vince Young or no Vince Young. The game opened at three. See how attractive they're making it for you, Jaguars fans? Fine. Give me Tennessee please. Elsewhere my picks aren't quite so exotic. The Jets were feeling mighty good about themselves until the Bills nailed them. Now they feel bad. Perfect. I'll take the Jets over Minnesota. Logic says the Falcons can't put the running game in their fullback's hands as they did against Tampa Bay, so a shaky pick for the Cowboys, whom I mindlessly backed to the hilt last week against the Saints. I like the Buffalo trifecta‚Äîdefense, special teams and cold weather‚Äîover Miami. And here comes the biggest formula pick of all: How could the Colts, even with their defensive miseries, have opened as only a three-point home favorite over Cincinnati in the Monday-nighter? Not logical, so I won't think twice, and I'll send it all in on the Bengals.
Last week 4--4 Season 53--51
Dr. Z writes for the Web every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SI.com/nfl.