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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (8-5) at Philadelphia (5-8)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Before this season, a clash between the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles was some people's non-hyperbolic Super Bowl matchup.
But when the two desperate sides meet on the Eagles' home turf at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 15, it's much closer to an old-school "loser leave town" wrestling match.
With three games remaining on the 2011 regular-season schedule, the Jets hold a tenuous one-game lead on a trio of teams in the chase for the AFC's second Wild Card berth. Meanwhile, the Eagles are one loss away from a nightmare end to their "Dream Team" season.
The Jets have never beaten Philadelphia in eight overall tries and four attempts on the road, the most recent coming in October of 2003 with the New York quarterback duo of Vinny Testaverde and Chad Pennington dropping a 24-17 decision to the Donovan McNabb-led Eagles.
"It's exciting. We've got three games left and it's up for grabs," Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid said of his team's position. "I'd say that's a good thing."
A loss would officially eliminate the Eagles from playoff consideration. They now sit third in the jumbled NFC East, two games behind both the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. Philadelphia visits the Cowboys next week and ends with Washington at home on Jan. 1, and would need to win all three and get outside help to reach the postseason.
The Eagles are also 1-5 at home this season.
"We have a chance. [This game] does matter," tight end Brent Celek said. "That's all you can ask for after the position we left ourselves in. We just have to capitalize on every opportunity we have."
Dynamic Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick returns for his second straight start after missing three games with broken ribs. He completed 15 out of 30 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown and an interception in last week's 26-10 victory at Miami.
"Just having his presence in the huddle, it changes everything," running back LeSean McCoy said of Vick. "There are plays that should be called dead or be stopped, and instead you have Vick running around making plays down the field, so it's good to have him back."
The Jets have similarly stopped and started all season, winning two straight games, losing three, then winning three before losing two and now winning three in a row -- including last week's 37-10 home rout of Kansas City.
New York has averaged 33 points per game and scored 13 touchdowns while beating Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City in the most recent streak. In fact, it has scored touchdown in 12 straight red-zone trips during that stretch.
"I think we're all just playing a lot better across the board," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "I think hopefully we're just starting to hit our stride, and we're not there yet."
Running back Shonn Greene has 295 rushing yards and four touchdowns during the Jets' win streak.
"This time of year, it doesn't matter where you play, you better go win," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said of Sunday's game. "This is going to be a big challenge. I know the Jets' history; 0-8 against the Eagles. Obviously, they're an excellent football team and we know it's going to be a big challenge. We've got three games left that are going to be tough, but we're confident."
As previously mentioned, the Eagles have won all eight of their lifetime regular-season meetings with the Jets, extending their dominance in the series with a 16-9 decision at the Meadowlands in 2007. In addition to its above-noted loss at Lincoln Financial Field in 2003, New York dropped decisions to Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium in 1973 (24-23), 1977 (27-0) and 1978 (17-9).
The Jets have had the upper hand lately in the annual preseason set between these two participants, however, having won nine consecutive times over the Eagles prior to Philadelphia's 24-14 triumph at MetLife Stadium back on Sept. 1.
Reid is 2-0 against the Jets during the regular season over his long tenure with the Eagles, while Ryan will be taking on both Philadelphia and Reid for the first time in meaningful action as a head coach.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
In their past three wins, the suddenly-prolific Jets are averaging 33 points per game. Sanchez became the first Jets player to have two touchdown passes and two rushing scores in a game last week and in his past two games, has completed 32-of-53 passes (60.4 percent) for 346 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 98.5 rating. He has a career-best 21 touchdown passes in 2011. Greene leads the NFL with four rushing touchdowns in December and is averaging 108.5 yards on the ground over his past two outings, while producing career season bests in rushing yards (868) and touchdowns (six) in 2011. Veteran back LaDainian Tomlinson posted his 162nd career touchdown last week, the third-most all-time behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (208) and Emmitt Smith (175). Wide receiver Santonio Holmes aims for a fourth straight game with a touchdown reception and counterpart Plaxico Burress has five scoring catches in nine career games against the Eagles, most of which came while with the NFC East-rival New York Giants. Tight end Dustin Keller (620 yards) needs 68 receiving yards to surpass his career-best of 687 set in 2010. Reserve running back Joe McKnight leads the NFL with a 32.4 average on kick returns.
On defense, Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel has an NFL-best 38 interceptions since 2006, while end Trent Cole had a sack in his only career meeting with the Jets back in 2007. Fellow end Jason Babin has a career-best 15 sacks this season, the most by an Eagle since onetime Jet Hugh Douglas had 15 in 2000. Babin and Cole each had three sacks last week in Miami, the second time two Eagles had three in the same game, joining Reggie White and Clyde Simmons in November of 1992. Second-year middle linebacker Jamar Chaney has a team-best 84 tackles, a sack and two interceptions on the season.
Statistically speaking, the Jets on offense are sixth in scoring (25.2 ppg), 25th in total yards (311.0 ypg), 21st in passing (206.1 ypg) and 22nd in rushing (104.9 ypg). The Eagles on defense are 20th in points allowed (22.5 ppg), 11th in total yards (334.0 ypg), 12th against the pass (218.9 ypg) and 18th against the run (115.1 ypg).
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Vick won his only start against the Jets while with Atlanta in October of 2005, rushing for two touchdowns in that game, while McCoy leads the NFC with 1,172 rushing yards and tops the NFL with 17 touchdowns (14 rushing, 3 receiving) this season. He needs just two scores to pass Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren (18 in 1945) for the most in a season by an Eagle. McCoy has scored a touchdown in 12 of 13 games this season and also leads the NFL with 94 first downs made and 76 rushing first downs. Including playoffs, wide receiver DeSean Jackson has 29 touchdowns (22 receiving, 4 on punt returns, 3 rushing) in his career and averages 44.8 yards per score. Wideout Riley Cooper is averaging 19.2 yards per catch (14 receptions, 269 yards) this season, while leading receiver Jeremy Maclin needs three catches to reach 50 receptions for the third consecutive season.
For the Jets on defense, linebacker David Harris has two sacks in his past three games and leads the team with 73 tackles. Tackle Sione Pouha has 51 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble to pace the front line. Safety Jim Leonhard was placed on injured reserve this week for the second straight season after hurting his knee against Kansas City, prompting New York to sign veteran Gerald Alexander, who has 159 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks in five NFL seasons.
By the numbers, the Eagles on offense are 15th in scoring (22.8 ppg), fourth in total yards (399.2 ypg), 11th in passing (250.3 ypg) and third in rushing (148.9 ypg). Meanwhile, New York on defense is 13th in points allowed (20.8 ppg), sixth in both yards allowed (310.1 ypg) and against the pass (200.8 ypg) and 14th against the run (109.2 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
The combination of a capable quarterback, a shifty running back and a plethora of receiving targets has troubled the Jets in the past, and could repeat itself in the dynamic forms of Vick, McCoy, Jackson, Maclin and Celek. The Eagles are a very dangerous team when all the parts are working on offense.
Bruising running back Greene has averaged four or more yards per carry for three straight games and scored four of his six touchdowns in the last two weeks. He could be valuable for the Jets in exposing the Eagles' perceived run- stopping weakness up the middle.
In the games the Jets have won, Sanchez has averaged a shade more than 30 pass attempts. In the games they've lost, it�s been a shade under 37. The number he's closest to on Sunday will go a long toward determining New York's fate in this game.
Left for dead two weeks ago in Seattle, the Eagles revived their season with a 16-point road win at Miami and assuming all offensive hands (Vick, Jackson, etc.) are physically and mentally on deck, they provide a difficult matchup for a Jets team without an injured defensive captain. Now that Reid's job security may be hanging by a playoff-berth thread, it'll be interesting to see how his "Dream Team" responds to the no-margin-for-error scenario. It says here that they pass test No. 1.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 27, Jets 23
12/15 14:39:24 ET