FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The Philadelphia Eagles will play No. 2 quarterback A.J. Feeley against New England tonight because they have to.

The New England Patriots might use their backup, too.

Because they want to.

Donovan McNabb did not practice this week to rest his sore ankle and thumb, and on Saturday the Eagles said he will not play against the Patriots. Feeley will have to try to stop New England as it litters the roadside with opponents on its quest for a perfect 19-0 record.

“Right now, they’re the best team in the National Football League, and we understand that,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. “It’s very well-deserved.”

The Eagles and Patriots (10-0) are meeting in a meaningful game for the first time since the 2005 Super Bowl, which New England won 24-21. If Philadelphia (5-5) was ever eager for a rematch, it drew a bad spot to get one: The Patriots are even better than the day they won their third NFL title, Reid concedes, and maybe better than any team he’s ever seen.

“I have a hard time, as I think about it, thinking of anybody that’s done it better for 10 games than what the Patriots have done right now,” Reid said. “Everything seems a little more poignant when you’re sitting here having to play them and they’re doing it at the present. There have been some good offenses before, but they’re doing it very well right now.”

The numbers bear him out: The Patriots could clinch the AFC East title before they take the field Sunday night, and they aren’t likely to stop there. Oddsmakers favor them to run the table through the Super Bowl, which would surpass the 17-0 record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins – the NFL’s only perfect season.

Along the way, New England could set records for points and average margin of victory. The Patriots are averaging 41 points per game, and only one of their opponents has come within 16; in their other games, Tom Brady has thrown an average of five passes in the fourth quarter before watching his backups finish off another win.

But that’s not soon enough for some opponents, who accuse the Patriots of poor sportsmanship for running up the score after the game is no longer in doubt.

“The mentality is, ‘Let’s pursue greatness,’ and not just, ‘Hey, let’s get wins,”‘ fullback Heath Evans explained. “How can we beat this team to the maximum? That’s the way we’re coached, that’s the way we’re prepared, and that’s the way were taught to think.”

In Sunday’s 56-10 victory over Buffalo, Brady threw for five touchdown passes – four to Randy Moss – and the pair didn’t come out of the game until there were 11 minutes left. Brady said he stays in the game because the team still has things to work on, but he also acknowledged that he wants opponents to be intimidated by the prospect of playing such a proficient team.

“We’re trying to play extremely well,” Brady said on the radio this week. “We’re not trying to win 42-28; we’re trying to kill people. We’re trying to blow them out if we can.”

Brady skipped his Wednesday media session with reporters this week, and he scooted through the Patriots’ locker room Friday without commenting.

“That’s their attitude right now: ‘Either you’re going to stop us or you’re not. If you can’t stop us, then we’re going to continue to do what we do,”‘ Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. “They’re saying that we’re going to score as many points as we can once our offense is on the field, and it’s up to you to stop us. So, that’s the challenge that we have ahead of us.”

McNabb did not practice all week because of the sore ankle and thumb he hurt against Miami, when Feeley led the Eagles to a pair of touchdowns in Philadelphia’s 17-7 victory over the winless Dolphins.

The Patriots have no such concerns.

Brady has 38 touchdown passes and is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s single-season record of 49 despite frequently sitting out the fourth quarter. Moss needs just six more TD catches in the last six games to match Jerry Rice’s record of 22.

“We’re not intimidated by the team,” Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said. “As a football player, you don’t go into the game intimidated. We respect what they’ve done, we respect the fact that they’ve scored a lot of points, and it’s up to us to neutralize their scoring ability and put some points on the board ourselves.”

AP-ES-11-24-07 1522EST

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