NFC East rivalries are notorious for their history of blood baths. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants will add a new chapter to that history in the NFC Divisional Round on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Division games in the NFL regularly end up in dogfights even when two teams appear unevenly matched. Familiarity also affects game plans. It’s what leads football analysts to lean on tired clichés about how hard it is for an NFL team to win three games against the same opponent in one season.
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles hammered the Giants in a 48-22 blowout at the Meadowlands in Week 14, and they capped off the most successful regular season in franchise history with another victory over the Giants in Week 18.
When the two NFC East rivals meet on Saturday night, should the Eagles worry about how they’ll be playing the same opponent for the third time in six games?
Clichés vs. Stats
Clichés about the difficulty of defeating an NFL team three times aren’t rooted in statistics. In 23 instances since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, teams that have swept a division opponent in two regular-season games are 15-9 when facing that same opponent in a playoff game.
Mike Shula put it simply during the playoffs after the 2017 season. He worked as the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers entering a playoff matchup against a New Orleans Saints team that had swept them in two regular-season matchups.
“They know us just as well as we know them,” Shula said days before his team lost to the Saints for a third time.
The misleading adage might’ve caught more traction in the early 2000s. Between 1989 and 2004, five teams that lost twice to a division opponent beat that same opponent in the Wild Card Round. The frequency suggested that there might have been some substance behind the cliché.
Did those five teams deserve credit for making the necessary adjustments based on familiarity and taking advantage of the situations in front of them? Of course, and any NFL team who wins a playoff game can say the same thing.
Home Teams and Unique Circumstances
The persistence of this cliché has a lot to do with last year’s NFC Championship Game. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Los Angeles Rams twice during the 2021 regular season but failed to finish off the three-game sweep when the two NFC West teams met with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
This game had its own set of unique circumstances to consider. The 49ers finished the season 10-7 while the Rams won the division with a 12-5 record.
Los Angeles was the better team throughout the season. They entered the game as favorites despite losing twice during the regular season to the 49ers.
The Rams simply defeated an inferior team and went on to win Super Bowl LVI. Sean McVay deserves credit for drawing up a game plan and advancing without concern for a cliché that had no substance to it.
Eagles vs. Giants
Conventional wisdom suggests that a team like the Eagles with a 2-0 record against a single opponent during the regular season is likely to beat that same opponent in a playoff game.
Home teams are 12-6 when this situation arises, and a home team in the postseason facing a division opponent is always a higher seed that has finished with a better record. The Eagles finished 14-3, and they’re playing a home game against a team who finished 4.5 games back of the NFC East lead. They’ve owned the Giants with 15 wins in 18 tries since 2014.
The Week 18 meeting between Philadelphia and New York didn’t have much significance for either team. Nick Sirianni called an incredibly conservative game plan, and the Giants didn’t play most of their starters. The film from Week 18 won’t factor into game plans much leading up to the NFC Divisional Round matchup.
There is one element of bad news for the Eagles. The Giants are the most recent team to defeat a playoff opponent that swept them in two regular-season games. They did it against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round after the 2007 season.
There’s a unique set of circumstances to consider there too. The Eagles aren’t starting a quarterback like Tony Romo who never had the killer instinct to put together a legitimate playoff track record.
The Eagles are not a lock to win on Saturday. It’s the NFL Playoffs, and every game is tough. If the Giants win, Brian Daboll and the New York staff deserve credit. However, it won’t be because of how hard it is to beat the same opponent three times in one season.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum