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Cowboys have history on their side vs. Eagles

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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NBA coaching legend Pat Riley trademarked the phrase "three-peat."

In the NFL, some teams may need to "three-sweep" to win a Super Bowl.

Dallas is one of them. The Cowboys already have defeated Philadelphia twice during the regular season, but those victories mean nothing if Dallas doesn't win Saturday's first-round playoff rematch.

"Yeah, it's hard to play a team three times," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said during his Monday news conference. "But I'd rather be on our side of it. I'd rather be the team that won twice and is playing at home than the team that lost twice and is playing on the road."

The same "three-sweep" scenario could apply for Minnesota and Cincinnati later in the playoffs. The Vikings and Bengals may have to face Green Bay and Baltimore, respectively, after notching regular-season sweeps.

On the surface, the odds would seemingly be against a team running the table in such fashion. Yet since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, three times has proven a charm more often than not. Twelve of the 19 teams that entered the playoffs with the chance to post a 3-0 record against a division foe did just that.

Home-field advantage can spell the difference. Or, sometimes, a sweep is simply reflective of one team's being that much better than the other.

The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers were the most recent example, although such success on the path to Super Bowl XLIII didn't come easy. The Steelers defeated AFC North rival Baltimore by a combined total of 16 points in three games that weren't decided until late in the fourth quarter or overtime. The final blow was a 23-14 AFC championship game victory at Heinz Field.

If the Cowboys enter Saturday night's contest with the same swagger Pittsburgh had, Dallas should do just fine.

"We had a lot of confidence going into that game," said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who had two sacks and five other tackles in the 2008 AFC title game. "We said, 'We've beaten this team twice. Now, they're coming back on our home field, and this game is for the Super Bowl.' We were ready to go out there and beat them."

Woodley, though, said Philadelphia should welcome the chance for a rematch despite having lost to the Cowboys by scores of 20-16 and 24-0.

"I'd rather play somebody I'm familiar with," Woodley said. "You know their players and the plays they're going to run. You don't have to install that much going into the week because you pretty much already know what you're going to do. It makes practice a little more relaxed, but you do go over everything that happened the first two games."

Sam Madison has experienced life on both sides of the fence. The veteran cornerback was part of the 2007 New York Giants squad that had lost twice to Dallas during the regular season before stunning the Cowboys in the playoffs. Madison also was a rookie with Miami in 1997 when the Dolphins lost three games against New England.

Madison said the key to New York's success and Super Bowl run was evolving as a team from a Week 10 loss to Dallas and the second-round playoff upset. Madison said the Giants entered the postseason clicking offensively and much more comfortable defensively with first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system.

"It was like we had two different seasons," Madison said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "We caught the Cowboys off-guard with the type of tempo we were playing. While they were coasting at the end of the season, we were just getting our thing going and Spags was putting in a whole lot of other (defenses). Guys understood our whole defense, so we were able to go in and out of different things."

The Eagles don't have the makeover luxury with the quick turnaround from Sunday's shutout loss. The best Philadelphia can do is create a more aggressive defensive game plan and avoid the dropped passes and shaky Donovan McNabb throws that derailed the offense. Otherwise, the Eagles will be out of the playoffs with a third Cowboys strike.

"When you are playing a team that you see twice a year and you have another opportunity to play them again back-to-back, it comes down to execution," McNabb told Eagles media on Tuesday. "That's that message we are trying to express to everyone. It's just going through your same regimen through a week of practice trying to be perfect, know what you're seeing and being able to execute. Good things will happen for you."




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