PHILADELPHIA — Arriving at your destination on time is the first step to success. The Giants are early.
At the start of this season, there was no anticipation they would be where they are now: still practicing, still rolling out game plans, still locked in, all as prelude for a Saturday night meeting of potential mayhem with the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in an NFC divisional playoff game.
That they got this far is stunning, yet every vibe given off by these Giants suggests this was their great expectation. They made it this far and see no reason to close up shop now, despite the impediment before them: the No. 1 seed in the conference, a heavily favored opponent featuring an all-star roster, a ravenous home crowd, a squad rested and presumably ready to eliminate a team they’ve already beaten twice this season and, seemingly, have beaten in this venue, repeatedly, for eons.
The last time the Giants won at the Linc, their quarterback, Daniel Jones, was a 16-year old slinging the football back home in Charlotte, N.C.
Yeah, it has been that long. Beating the Vikings last week in Minneapolis in the playoff debut for Jones and so many other Giants players surely was impressive. Knocking off the rival Eagles, well, that would reverberate around the NFL and give credence to head coach Brian Daboll’s first Giants team that anything is possible.
“Underdog means nothing,’’ safety Xavier McKinney said. “You’ve got to go out there and play regardless of being excited, underdog, it doesn’t matter. In this league, anything can happen, obviously in the playoffs anything can happen, so really nobody’s an underdog in the playoffs because you all got there.
“You’re the top teams, so there’s no underdogs. You’ve got to go out there and play, compete, and we’ll be looking to do that, and we’ll be looking to win.’’
Can they pull it off? The Eagles (14-3) were far and away the most dominant team in the league before 24-year-old quarterback Jalen Hurts went down with a sprained right shoulder and they lost back-to-back games in Weeks 16 and 17. They secured the top seed in the NFC when Hurts returned, clearly not at full capacity, and beat a bunch of Giants backups, 22-16, in the regular-season finale.
With both sides using their best players, the Eagles routed the Giants 48-22 on Dec. 11. It was the only game all season that got completely away from Daboll’s club. Was that lopsided result indicative of what will come next? The Giants played that game without three of their top players on defense — McKinney, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and lineman Leonard Williams were all out with injuries.
The Giants have never lost to a team three times in one season.
Hurts was playing at an MVP level before his setback. Jones, against the odds and in his contract year, established that he should remain the Giants’ quarterback when he overwhelmed the Vikings in a 31-24 playoff victory with his arm and his legs. Giants-Eagles is the first playoff matchup in NFL history in which both quarterbacks rushed for at least 700 yards during the season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to still be playing,’’ Jones said. “This is where you want to be, playing these big games. It’s an awesome opportunity for us.’’
Daboll, a favorite for the NFL’s Coach of the Year Award, almost seemed to delight in listing the challenges presented by the Eagles.
“Number one seed,’’ he said. “They won the [NFC] East. They beat us twice. They got eight Pro Bowlers, six All-Pros. I think they can get your attention real quick.’’
The Giants have not won in their least-favorite stadium since 2013, a span of nine consecutive losses. The joint will be jumping.
When the matchup was made official, left guard Nick Gates was shown a picture of a fan outside the Eagles team facility with a sign that read “F–k the Giants.’’ Gates was not offended. “That’s awesome,’’ he said.
It figures to be that sort of evening.
“We had one goal this whole year, and that was to win a Super Bowl,’’ safety Julian Love said. “I think you’re selling yourself short if that’s not your end goal. And so, yeah, we’re happy we’re in this spot. But there’s a lot more to go.’’