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.

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers at Bucks
3:30 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (12-26) look to get back in the win column when they face the Milwaukee Bucks (20-19) at the Bradley Center in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Let's take a closer look at Monday afternoon's matchup:

1. Back on the Embiid express
The Sixers have started to show flashes of coming together and finally turning the corner on their massive rebuild. However, they are nowhere near the point that they can remove the biggest piece of the puzzle and still expect to win games.

The Sixers found that out again on Saturday night, as they were pummeled during the second half of a 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards with Joel Embiid sidelined for rest.

The team didn't want to use the rookie phenom's absence as an excuse, but it was clear his presence was missed.

“We didn’t have that extra oomph,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. “Obviously, the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that’s the challenge. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Embiid and his 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game will be back in the lineup against the Bucks.

2. Freak of nature
The Sixers won't be the only squad with a star in the making on the court Monday afternoon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown plenty of potential since he was selected by the Bucks 15th overall in the 2013 draft (Anthony Bennett, who was recently released by the Brooklyn Nets, was taken No. 1 overall that year, for those of you keeping track at home). But the man known as "The Greek Freak" has taken his game to new heights this season.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in addition to 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season - all career highs. He's also coming off a 33-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in the Bucks' 111-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

With Antetokounmpo playing point guard full time now and the Bucks' starting five boasting players all above 6-foot-7, it's hard to determine how the Sixers will match up on defense. Whatever the plan is to slow down "The Greek Freak," it will have to be a total team effort.

3. Protect the paint
All of that size and athleticism for the Bucks is a big reason they attack the rim so much. Milwaukee is tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead in points in the paint with 50.6 per game.

The Sixers were dominated on the low block for 54 points by the Wizards on Saturday with Embiid out. For the season, they rank 14th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.3 a night.

One thing that might help the Sixers is their shot blocking. They swat 5.6 shots a game (sixth in the NBA), which could deter some of those romps to the rim by the Bucks.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Khris Middleton (hamstring) is out for the Bucks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 of their last 14 games to the Bucks.

• Ersan Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks (see story on his return to Milwaukee). This will mark the fourth time he has faced his former team.

• Jabari Parker, selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft right before Embiid, has emerged this season with 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

The Sixers will get Joel Embiid back in the lineup when they meet the Bucks on Monday afternoon in Milwaukee, but they'll be without their starting point guard.

T.J. McConnell will miss Monday's game with a sprained right wrist suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Wizards in D.C., the Sixers announced Monday morning.

McConnell reportedly did not travel with the team to Milwaukee and is back home in Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old McConnell has been a presence this season for a Sixers team that desperately needed something from the point guard spot. In 38 games this season, McConnell has averaged 4.8 points, 5.8 points and 4.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night in an average of 22.3 minutes a game.

The highlight of McConnell's season, of course, came last week when he nailed the game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Sixers a 98-97 victory over the Knicks.

Sergio Rodriguez is expected to start in McConnell's place Monday against the Bucks.