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On New York, New York day, Jets, Giants going opposite way

You have to go back 25 seasons for the last time the New York Jets and Giants played a postseason game on the same day. It was Dec. 27, 1981. The Bills held on for a 31-27 victory over the Jets at Shea Stadium thanks to a last minute Bill Simpson interception. The Giants upset the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, 27-21, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Both were wild-card games.

At the start of September, few expected the Jets to be a playoff team, let alone a 10-win team. At the start of December, few expected Philadelphia to make the playoffs, let alone enter the postseason as the NFC East champion. The Jets, under rookie head coach Eric Mangini, didn't get taken seriously until they upset the Patriots, 17-14, at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 12 to begin a 6-2 closing run. The Eagles were written off after they fell to 5-6 with losses to Tennessee and Indianapolis in November following the season-ending knee injury to quarterback Donovan McNabb. Philadelphia then reeled off wins over Carolina, Washington, the Giants and Dallas with veteran backup Jeff Garcia at the helm and closed with a win over Atlanta. The key was a 36-22 triumph over New York at Giants Stadium on Dec. 17. A 23-7 win at Dallas the next week put the Birds in position to win the division.

Giants (8-8) at Eagles (10-6)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:30 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-7).

The scoop: Garcia passed for 10 touchdowns with only two interceptions after taking over at quarterback. He was 7-2 in the four wins he quarterbacked from start to finish. Resourceful coaching by Andy Reid, tremendous production by RB Brian Westbrook and solid defensive play also saved the Eagles' season. . . . Westbrook averaged 93.8 yards rushing and caught 16 passes during the Eagles' stretch run. He finished the season with 1,217 rushing yards and 77 catches for 699 yards receiving. He scored 11 TDs. . . . The Eagles receivers are maligned but tight end L.J. Smith (50 catches), Reggie Brown (42), Donte Stallworth (38), Greg Lewis (24) and Hank Baskett (22 with TD receptions of 87 and 89 yards) give Garcia several options. Garcia completed 61.7 percent. . . . Philadelphia, with 19 interceptions, was second in the league to Chicago in interception rate. . . . New York has been hit hard by injuries, especially on the offensive line (tackle Luke Petitgout), and the defensive line (end Michael Strahan), along with various linebackers and defensive backs. The Giants' defense has been wildly inconsistent. Opponents had three games of 300 yards passing or more. Opponents had rushing games of 168, 191, 175, 188 and 156.

Outlook: This will be the fiercest of the weekend's four playoff games. Barber makes it a struggle for Eagles. Philadelphia, 20-17.

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Jets (10-6) at Patriots (12-4)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-9).

The scoop: Each team won on the other's field during the regular season. Twelve times in NFL history teams that split in the regular season with wins on the road later met in the playoffs. Five times the visiting team won the postseason game, including the 1992 Bills against Miami and the Steelers over the Bengals last year. . . . The Jets' last loss was a 31-13 rout at Giants Stadium by the Bills on Dec. 10. New York split its home games, 4-4, but was 6-2 on the road against one of the NFL's weakest schedules. . . . Five New York opponents, including the Bills twice, ran for over 150 yards. The Jets were held under 100 yards rushing in seven games. New York's ability to run and stop the run is open to question, but somehow the Jets manage to win because they are unpredictable. . . . Pennington threw for 17 touchdowns and had 16 interceptions. Despite the limitations of his throwing arm, Pennington managed to get big passing plays down the field to Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, who had six TD catches each. Pennington looks to Justin McCareins and tight end Chris Baker in the clutch. Baker is the usual target in the red zone. . . . Undersized rookie Leon Washington is New York's most dangerous threat as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. . . . New England quarterback Tom Brady, who is 10-1 in postseason play, was visibly frustrated after he was sacked four times and limited to one scoring pass in the loss to the Jets. The Pats and Brady figured to be better prepared for the Jets' blitzes and presnap defensive realignments this time. . . . New York's suspect run defense will have to deal with a versatile Pats running back corps of Corey Dillon, rookie Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk. . . . WR Reche Caldwell was an effective deep threat for Brady late in the season. . . . New England's secondary, already viewed as vulnerable, will miss safety Rodney Harrison, out with a knee injury. Harrison and the Pats were upset with the cut block by a Tennessee receiver last week. It's ironic, because Harrison long has been viewed as the NFL's No. 1 cheap shot artist.

Outlook: Not expecting the Jets to crack in a drab war of nerves. New England, 14-10.

e-mail: mnorthrop@buffnews.com

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