To the fans on the streets, the mere mention of the Dallas Cowboys draws dramatic gestures of dislike and, yes, hatred. For the players in the Eagles locker room, the intensity for Sunday's opponent, the New York Giants, is on top of the "don't like" list. For them -- or some of them, anyway -- the Giants are the biggest rival.
"It's a division game and it always means so much. It is physical and there is a lot of trash talking that goes on during the game," said safety Quintin Mikell. "I don't know where all the Dallas stuff started, but for me, and for this locker room, New York is the bigger rivalry. That's just the way it is."
There are some who have other opinions, of course. LeSean McCoy, who grew up in Harrisburg, PA and who has more of a fan's perspective than other players who grew up in other areas of the country, lists the Cowboys as his biggest rivals. That's fine. That's fair.
The point is, though, that for anyone who thinks an Eagles-Giants game isn't special inside the locker room here, well, the truth is that Sunday marks the first of two annual games against a team that works 80 miles north on the New Jersey Turnpike.
"It was always my biggest rivalry," says former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese. "I couldn't stand those guys. Plus, I felt that we always had to go through them to win in the NFC East. We had lost nine games in a row to them (from the 1997 season to the playoff loss in 2000) and then when we finally beat them (10-9 at the Meadowlands, October 22, 2001) it was such a breakthrough. We knew that that the NFC East was ours."
The Eagles won seven of eight games from the Giants at one point in the early 2000s, then lost three straight games, won two consecutive games against New York and then dropped three in a row to the G-men before reeling off wins in the last four contests.
Back and forth the rivalry has gone, and so many times the games have produced memorable moments.
In each meeting, the teams have left nothing on the field.
"Oh, it gets pretty nasty out there against the Giants. I don't think they like us and we don't like them," said defensive end Trent Cole. "We're coming in here and both teams are tied for first place in the NFC East. There is a lot on the line. It's going to be physical out there."
Andy Reid is 11-11 against the Giants and 6-7 against current Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. He knows that no matter the teams' records, Eagles-Giants produces great football.
"He doesn't have to say much to us about this game," said offensive guard Todd Herremans. "The Giants have a great team. They know how to win. They play hard. We know that this is going to be a very tough game to win."
SAMUEL, MAN ON THE CORNER
It isn't often that cornerback Asante Samuel has a slew of footballs thrown his way. Teams, in fact, tend to avoid throwing to Samuel's side, which makes his NFL-high 34 interceptions since 2006 that much more impressive.
"It is something that I have learned to deal with over the years," said Samuel, who has 5 interceptions this year. "It can get kind of boring over there when you don't get any action, but I keep telling myself that they are going to throw it at me sooner or later. That's how I try to keep myself into the game and involved. I know they are going to throw my way at some point, so I have to be ready.
On Sunday, Samuel and the secondary must contain Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, an emerging second-year man who is having a lights-out season.
"He's a great player, explosive and he has great body control," said Samuel. "He has strong hands and is a good playmaker. They throw the ball up to him and somehow he figures out a way to come down with it."
COLE OR JEAN-GILLES OR DOES IT MATTER?
Reid was very coy on Friday about the starting right guard situation. Nick Cole played well on Monday night, and Max Jean-Gilles was doing a fine job prior to suffering a concussion against the Colts. It could just be that Reid feels he has two starting-caliber players there and that he hasn't made up his mind quite yet. Or he wants to make the Giants think a little bit.
In any event, the good news is that Cole has recovered from a bothersome knee injury from the preseason, and that Jean-Gilles is a different player after his Lap Band surgery from the off-season. A unit that started off with so much inconsistency, the offensive line has played much, much better.
"We've improved in the run game and we're just getting more time with each other. I think that is the big key," said right tackle Winston Justice. "At the same time, there is a lot more we can improve on. We've got the Giants coming in. They have a great group up front. It's a huge challenge. I'm looking forward to that. We all are. They're the best out there."
*STATISTICAL CORNER *
<span id="1290195562459S"> </span>The Eagles rank second in the NFL in passer rating differential. Philadelphia's quarterbacks have compiled a rating of 100.2, while opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 72.8, a difference of 27.4 points. San Diego is first in the league with a rating difference of 28.5 points, while Green Bay is third (21.8 points) and New Orleans is next (17.2 points).
- Philadelphia ranks second in the league with 28.6 points scored per game while ranking third in the league with 400.2 yards per game. The Eagles have scored 20-plus points in seven of nine games this year, compiling a 6-1 record. The Eagles are 93-23 since 1999 when scoring 20 or more points in a game.
- Key to the game? How about this statistic: The Eagles are first in the league with a plus-12 differential in turnovers, while the Giants have a minus-5 to rank 24th in the NFL.