Who's The No. 1 Seed?

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If Johnny Mathis were to write this blog entry for me, he would probably start it off with something like, “It’s beginning to feel a lot like last year, everywhere you go.”

It was at this time last year the Giants went into Tampa Bay and came out with a win in the wild card round only to be told their season would end the following Sunday at Texas Stadium. And once they made it out of Dallas with Jerry Jones’ NFC Championship tickets in hand, they were written off because Brett Favre and the frigid temperatures at Lambeau Field awaited them a week later.

But even after they dominated the Packers and tried and tried to wrap the game up with a field goal, it looked as though Lawrence Tynes’ foot would actually be the team’s achilles heal and end their magical run to Glendale, Arizona. But just when the world thought Brett Favre would be what he once was (a decade ago), he showed what he now is, throwing the Packers trip to XLII into the hands of Corey Webster.

I don’t think I need to tell you what the predictions were entering that historic championship against the New England Patriots, but let me remind you this. Only Dr. Z of SI.com, Frank Caliendo the comedian, Plaxico Burress, and myself picked the Giants to win the Super Bowl. The rest of the world commended their efforts and congratulated them on an overachieving season. And their opponents, the Patriots, even went so far as to invite them to their after parties during the final drive of the game. But when it was all said and done, the New York Football Giants were world champions.

This season, as much as it has been a different road to the playoffs, it has really been the same, if that even makes sense (at least to me it does).

Entering the season the Giants lost their leader in Michael Strahan to retirement and the next coming of Strahan in Osi Umenyiora to a knee injury. Critics mathematically eliminated the Giants season in August and Trent Dilfer said on ESPN that “the New York Giants will be the biggest disappointment in 2008.”

But after they got off to a 4-0 start, your favorite TV and radio personalities started to scratch their heads and think about what they had said weeks earlier. And when the Giants had run their record to 11-1 the world became Giant fans and guaranteed them as the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.

Then a two-game losing streak hit (Philaldephia and Dallas) and all of a sudden the national media began to pull their bets off on the Giants like a craps table with a shaky shooter. The Giants record had fallen to 11-3 (oh my, not 11-3) and suddenly they were in the same tier as the Bengals and Seahawks. And you know who became the new No. 1? The Carolina Panthers. And it just so happened they would come into Giants Stadium that same week.

And when the Panthers left East Rutherford, the Giants had been crowned No. 1 in the NFC for the 2008 season and all that was left was an exhibition game in Minnesota, a game the Giants could care less about, but one the Vikings needed to have.

The Giants fell to the Vikings 20-19, playing their backups, and their backups, and their backups-backups, all while the Vikings were rushing the ball with Adrien Peterson and Chester Taylor, hoping to pull off the win and clinch a playoff berth. But a John Carney missed field goal, his first miss, non-blocked field goal of the season, is what ultimately cost the Giants the game.

Since that game, a week and a half ago, writers have used that loss to say that the Giants have gone 1-3 over their last four and have limped into the playoffs. I am not sure if these are people who like to hear themselves think or if they are really that idiotic, but the last time I checked the Giants won their last meaningful game (Carolina) and I am not sure if the Giants knew that their matchup in the Metrodome was part of the schedule, or if they thought they were just in the Giants Stadium Bubble practicing for the playoffs.  Considering Eli Manning played only the first half, Brandon Jacobs didn’t play at all, and the defensive line was playing XBox 360 in the locker room.

And now all of a sudden the Philadelphia Eagles are coming to town and if you had never watched a football game and had never heard about the NFL before this week, you would honestly think the Eagles hadn’t lost a game since 1932 and that they were about to win this coming game 84-0 and march right through Carolina and then through Tampa Bay and win the Super Bowl. And that is in all seriousness.

Because while the Giants haven’t had a real game since their meeting with the Panthers, the Eagles have been playing desperate football. And their desperate football has gotten them a loss to the Redskins and wins against Dallas and Minnesota. But by reading about the Eagles and their win over the Vikings, most would have you thinking they just took down a combination of the ’72 Dolphins and ’85 Bears with ease and there is no one left who could possibly stand in their way.

But when people comment and report on the Eagles/Vikings game, they forget to mention that Tavaris Jackson plays quarterback in Minnesota, or that they play in the NFC North, or that while playing for their lives against the Giants Freshman team they needed a last second field goal to seal the win. Why mention that though? Why mention that the Eagles hype is so inflated it might just be able to hold a spot in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Just because the Giants haven’t been on the field recently because of the bye they earned by being the best team in their conference during the regular season, the attention has turned to the Eagles who are playing the way everyone expected them to play all along. It just took them over four months to realize that the season had officially started.

And while three and four weeks ago, Donovan McNabb needed secret service protection to get in and out of Lincoln Financial Field and Andy Reid’s head was being called for in downtown Philly, these men are now heroes, nearly having statues of themselves replace the Liberty Bell in the City of Brotherly Love.

If there is one thing I have learned from 2007 and 2008 is that no matter what the New York Football Giants do they will still be underdogs.

Eli Manning could pass for 9,000 yards, Brandon Jacbobs could rush for 76 touchdowns, John Carney could kick a 68 yarder, Tom Coughlin could go 34 for 34 in challenges, and Madison Hedgecock could even catch a pass all while the Giants go 16-0 and it still wouldn’t matter. Because as long as the Giants are playing the Eagles or Cowboys they will still be the underdog.

As long as the Eagles don’t ever win a Super Bowl and the Cowboys don’t win a playoff game for 13 years and counting they will still be the favorites. And if the Giants were playing the Cardinals this week and the Panthers were playing the Falcons, the talk on NFL Live and Sports Center and on SI.com and everywhere else would somehow revolve around the Philadelphia Eagles or the Dallas Cowboys. Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. Andy Reid or Wade Phillips. Jason Witten or Philly’s best cheese steak. Brian Westbrook or Marion Barber’s haircut. T.O. or Jerry Jones’ recent cable bill.

If the Giants lose on Sunday it will be like my freshman year in college in Boston in 2004 when the Yankees lost Game 7 of the ALCS as I stared at the TV screen in disbelief. And though this game will be on a much lesser scale, a loss would hurt just as much for the time being.

And if the Giants lose Sunday, Eagles fans will run their mouths like its the New York Marathon and make you remember this one even 100 years from now when they still haven’t won a Super Bowl.

And if the Giants win Sunday, Eagles fans will tell you the Giants were supposed to win anyways.

But when the Giants win Sunday, you can come back here for your NFC Championship coverage.

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