EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ The Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC East again. Big deal. They did that before the season started.
The Eagles have played four games in the division and have outscored the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants by a combined 135-50. The opposition's points total is padded by at least a couple of touchdowns in garbage time.
Even the Eagles are aware of their dominance: 10-1 with very little that appears threatening on the upcoming schedule.
We've got to wait for the playoffs,'' Terrell Owens said after Sunday's 27-6 win over the Giants that made the clinching official.That's when the real ballgames begin.''
Sunday's win was almost a carbon copy of last week's victory over the Redskins, which ended 28-6. This week's win made it four straight division titles for Philadelphia with no real end in sight because the Eagles are well-coached, well-managed and several jumps ahead of the other three division teams.
On paper, the playoffs shouldn't be a problem either, unless some other NFC team improves dramatically between now and Jan. 15 or 16, when the Eagles will begin the season that really counts. They haven't clinched a first-round bye or home-field advantage for the playoffs yet, but that's probably just a formality.
Still, for a team that has lost the NFC title game three years in a row, little comes easy and looking at a schedule on paper doesn't cut it.
For example, do they take their foot off the gas a bit, hoping to ensure that their best players Owens, Donovan McNabb, Jevon Kearse, Brian Westbrook and Brian Dawkins don't get hurt? An injury to Westbrook probably kept them from the Super Bowl a year ago, when Owens was in San Francisco and the all-purpose running back was McNabb's only big-play threat.
Nor is history necessarily on their side. Go back to 1996.
Denver, featuring John Elway, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe, clinched home-field advantage in the AFC after 13 games. The Broncos were 12-1 when they clinched and then let up, losing two of their last three in the regular season.
Then, after a postseason bye week that probably took off even more of their edge, they lost 30-27 at home to Jacksonville, a second-year expansion team that had been lucky to even get into the postseason.
The Eagles were saying all the right things after Sunday's game, in which they allowed the Giants 225 yards in the first half and 47 in the second.
I don't want anybody to take this for granted,'' coach Andy Reid said.Every year is different and it's a battle every year. You enjoy it, but you don't lose focus on what's ahead.''
Mike Shanahan said more or less the same thing eight years ago after the Broncos clinched all they could clinch. But for whatever reason, his team did lose focus and lost to an opponent that wasn't close to being in its class.
Yes, Denver went on to win Super Bowls the next two seasons, getting John Elway his rings in his last two years as quarterback.
But after those three straight NFC title game losses, the Eagles don't want to hear about ``down the road.'' Winning a Super Bowl next season is not in their game plan right now.
When Philadelphia gets to the postseason, its first game, like Denver's in early 1997, is likely to be against a team that isn't close to being in its class. The Eagles just have to hope they can maintain the edge the Broncos lost.