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Eagles aim for first real victory over a playoff team

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The Philadelphia Eagles earned their way into the postseason with a 7-1 second half. Thanks to that and winning the NFC East, the Eagles will host the powerful New Orleans Saints on Jan. 4 and are even favored. But while the Saints have the disadvantage of being on the road in cold weather, the Eagles are still a team that hasn't needed to face tough competition to get here.

Philadelphia has only beaten one team that made the playoffs this season, and that victory barely counts. When the Eagles knocked off the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 20, Aaron Rodgers had just gotten hurt and the Packers had to send Scott Tolzien out for much of the game. Other than that, the Eagles are 0-3 against the rest of the NFL playoff field -- even if those games were against the AFC's Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.

The Eagles were not only lucky to play in the NFC East, they didn't have to face an overwhelming schedule. They won twice over the 3-13 Washington Redskins while also beating the 4-12 Oakland Raiders, 4-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7-9 New York Giants and Detroit Lions, and 8-8 Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears. Philadelphia did defeat the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals, yet they missed the postseason too.

If the Eagles knock off the Saints, it would automatically be the toughest opponent they ever beat. Even that would have asterisks, given New Orleans's road record, poor play in cold weather and how a flawed playoff seeding system put this game in Philadelphia. If the 11-5 Saints could host the 10-6 Eagles, then no one would give Philadelphia a real chance to win in the Superdome.

Should the Eagles win, then they will have a real chance to prove they can take on the elite. To reach the Super Bowl, they would have to knock out the even hotter Carolina Panthers on the road next, then beat either the top seeded Seattle Seahawks in brutal Seattle, the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, or a Packers team that has Rodgers back.

The regular season left doubt on whether Philadelphia could defeat the best of the best -- but no matter what, the postseason will answer this question. Yet has the regular season been tough enough for the Eagles to be ready for this level of competition?

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