Cowboys have history on their side vs. Eagles

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.”