The Difference Between the Eagles and Giants? One Man

The Difference Between the Eagles and Giants? One Man

The New York Giants are playing in Super Bowl XLVI, while the Philadelphia Eagles weren't even invited to the party, spawning the predictable debate about the distance between the two franchises right now. If you believe what you read in column inches and listen to over the air waves, it's the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.

But less than a month ago, the Giants were worming their way into the playoffs in the final game of the season. They finished 9-7, one win ahead of the Eagles and Cowboys, who each played their part in handing over a Division Championship. In reality, there wasn't much of a divide then, and there isn't one now.

Something set them apart from the competition though. What propelled New York to the big game, as Philadelphia looks on in disgust?

Hate to admit it, but a big reason for their success -- and perhaps the biggest difference between the two teams -- is Eli Manning.

It really shouldn't come as that much of a surprise. You would be hard-pressed to find somebody who would argue quarterback isn't the most important position on the field. As Donovan McNabb famously told reporters this season, it's a team game, but the quarterback often gets the most credit for winning and losing, whether it's deserved or not.

He would say that.

It's also hard to argue with his logic, but in this case, Manning earned it. Some of us have been slow to come around on Eli, but he had an amazing season. The Giants' QB started all 16 games for the seventh year in a row, throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns, while limiting his turnovers to 20.

By comparison, Michael Vick missed three games entirely and failed to finish two others, while Eagles signal callers combined for 4,110 yards and 22 touchdowns through the air, to go along with a whopping 29 turnovers.

One year ago, it was the exact opposite story. Eli Manning gave the ball away 30 times all by his lonesome in 2010, while Vick and Kevin Kolb only coughed up the pill 19 times. The Giants led the NFL in turnovers and missed out on the playoffs, while Vick was an MVP candidate and the Eagles were NFC East Champions.

Bringing the discussion back to present day, when you look at the rest of their rosters, the two clubs are actually quite similar in terms of their talent levels.

Offensively, the Eagles probably have a slight edge. Their running game is vastly more efficient, thanks in large part to a superior offensive line that was particularly dominant in the latter half of the season. And while New York's receiving corps might have leaped ahead of the Birds this year, Brent Celek gives them the more dynamic tight end.

On the other side of the ball, both have dominant lines. It's close on the edges, but Philly has the superior interior. However, they have an obvious linebacker problem -- advantage G-men. And though the Eagles' secondary vastly underperformed in 2011, you still have to take Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie over Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, though better safety performance gives the Giants a split in the backfield.

On balance, they look fairly even, but what of the blown fourth-quarter leads? Nobody is going to let us get away with making this comparison without pointing out the Eagles' defense left an NFL-record five games get away in the final frame.

The truth is, the only thing that kept the Giants from doing something similar was, you guessed it, Eli Manning.

New York did blow a pair of fourth-quarter leads versus Seattle and San Francisco. What doesn't get as much attention, for obvious reasons, are the instances where they surrendered a lead, only for Eli to bring them back. New England and Dallas came storming from behind to pull ahead in the last 15 minutes of games (additionally, Buffalo knotted one up), but each time, Manning responded.

In all, Eli Manning led five comeback victories this season. The Eagles had zero. That said, the most impressive comeback of all was transforming the Giants from an also-ran into a conference champion in a matter of weeks.

If the Birds intend to fill what little void exists in this rivalry by next season, all they really need is a heroic effort or two from their quarterback -- then maybe 2012 could be a proverbial comeback year.

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

A day after going 0 for 5 with five strikeouts, Odubel Herrera is leading off for the Phillies in their series opener Friday night against the Reds (see game notes).

It's the first time Herrera is leading off since last Aug. 19, a span of 84 games.

Cesar Hernandez gets the night off, with Andres Blanco batting second and playing second.

Maikel Franco is back in the six-hole after going 1 for 5 with two strikeouts in the cleanup spot Thursday. Tommy Joseph bats fourth and Michael Saunders fifth.

Cameron Rupp, who walked three times in Thursday's win over the Rockies, catches Aaron Nola and bats seventh.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Andres Blanco, 2B
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Aaron Nola, P

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies (16-29) vs. Reds (22-24)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Following their first win in a week, the Phillies open a new series this weekend against a beatable team in the Cincinnati Reds, who are 3-9 in their last 12 games and 1-7 in their last eight road games.

Let's have ourselves a look-see:

1. Nola's turn
Aaron Nola is on the mound tonight for his second start since a month-long DL stint. He was extremely impressive his last time out, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings in Pittsburgh.

Nola's fastball reached as high as 95.5 mph against the Pirates, which is notable because he threw only two pitches faster than 94 mph all of last season. His velocity was up before the lower back strain and it's a great sign that the elbow injury which ended his 2016 season is truly in the past.

In Pittsburgh, Nola (2-1, 3.52) threw 19 of 27 first-pitch strikes. He got 11 outs on the first three pitches of at-bats. 

He's faced the Reds twice in his career and dominated them both times, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings with one walk and 17 strikeouts.

Current Reds have gone 7 fo 39 (.179) against him with just two extra-base hits. Joey Votto is 0 for 5.

2. What to do with Odubel
Pete Mackanin has an interesting decision to make this weekend with slumping Odubel Herrera, who on Thursday became the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in a game.

Herrera is down to .226 on the season with a .275 on-base percentage. In May, he's hit .194 with one walk and 28 strikeouts.

Mackanin could bench Herrera like he did with Maikel Franco for two games earlier this week. It would send a message to the player that poor at-bats and wild swings have consequences. And, quite frankly, sitting Herrera for a day or two might give the Phillies a better chance to win.

The issue, of course, is that there's a thin line between giving a player a chance to clear his head and ridding him of opportunities to get back on track.

Plus, the Phillies don't have great options in replacing Herrera in the lineup. They have a four-man bench at the moment and the only options would be putting Ty Kelly or Brock Stassi in left field and moving Aaron Altherr to center.

(Update: Mackanin is taking the opposite approach with Herrera, leading him off Friday night.)

Herrera just has not been himself this season and it's troubling. At this point last season, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. He's been an undisciplined hitter in 2017 and when you have two of them in the middle of the lineup in Herrera and Franco, it makes things really easy on pitchers at times.

Herrera started the year hot, hitting in his first eight games. Since then, he's hit .203/.239/.324 in 155 plate appearances with six walks and 42 K's.

3. Tommy time
Tommy Joseph has been one of the very best hitters in baseball this month, batting .329/.400/.671 with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.

He's 148 games and 499 plate appearances into his major-league career and has hit .257 with 23 doubles, 28 homers, 69 RBIs and an .804 OPS. That's about 10 points higher than the league average OPS from first basemen over that span.

Had Joseph's April slump continued into May, prospect Rhys Hoskins might have already been called up. But Joseph has done enough so far to hold off Hoskins, who appears to have more upside because of his combination of power and plate selection.

Controlling the strike zone is the next step for Joseph. He has a .311 OBP so far with 33 walks and 112 strikeouts as a Phillie.

But over the last two seasons, he's been one of the few Phils who's taken advantage of this ballpark. Joseph's hit .276 with an .844 OPS at Citizens Bank Park compared to .240 with a .769 OPS on the road.

4. Scouting the Reds
The Phillies face 29-year-old Reds right-hander Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).

You look at the ERA and think, OK, maybe the Phillies' bats will wake up tonight. But keep in mind that the Rockies' four starting pitchers this week entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA and the Phillies scored three runs against them in 27 innings.

There's nothing special about the 6-foot-5 Adleman. He throws his fastball and sinker in the 88 to 91 mph range with a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. His opponents have hit .300 against his fastball and have eight extra-base hits with a .290 batting average against his changeup.

In six starts this season, Adleman's yet to go deeper than six innings. The Phils faced him last season and scored three runs in five innings. Cesar Hernandez went 2 for 2 with a walk and Franco went 1 for 3 with a double.

As for Cincinnati's offense, Votto is obviously the hitter you worry about most. He's hit .299/.422/.591 this season with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 38 RBIs, 35 walks and 24 strikeouts. A typical Votto season.

Shortstop Zack Cozart has been surprisingly hot these first two months, hitting .340 with 20 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 29 strikeouts. It's most surprising to see him walking this much because he never has. He's 15 walks away from matching his career high.

Leftfielder Adam Duvall has killed the Phillies over the last two seasons. He went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a homer in the season-opening series in Cincy and went 8 for 18 with four doubles against them last season.

5. This and that
• Over the last seven games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 22⅔ innings.

• Howie Kendrick started at third base for Lehigh Valley during his rehab assignment Thursday. He was hit by two pitches and removed from the game.  

• Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. He's 8 for 8 in save chances this season with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He's struck out 28 and allowed just one home run in 24⅔ innings. His ability to go multiple innings is what makes him stand out — he's Andrew Miller-like in that regard. Iglesias has pitched more than one inning in 7 of his 19 appearances.