Fifteen games have been played, and its all come down to this: The Eagles play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. The winner will be the NFC East champions, while the loser will be left out of the playoffs. If you’re an Eagles fan, aren’t these the types of games that you live for?
Not that history means all that much, but these teams were in a similar situation back in December 2008. The winner of the game would earn the final playoff spot in the NFC, and the loser would go home. The result was one of the greatest moments in Eagles history:
The next year, the two teams squared off in week 17 once again. Despite the NFC East being on the line, the stakes were actually a bit lower, since both teams had already qualified for the playoffs. Unfortunately, this game – as well as the following week’s rematch – didn’t go so well for the Eagles.
Many people lament the fact that the Eagles didn’t even have to be in this situation. If not for a last-minute touchdown by the Cowboys last week, the Eagles would have clinched the East with their victory on Sunday night. But there’s no sense in looking back at what might have been, especially when the future is still wide open. And really, if the Eagles go 0-2 against the Cowboys, do they deserve to be the NFC East champs?
What’s the Deal with the Cowboys?
The big story is that Tony Romo is injured, and Kyle Orton is going to be the starting quarterback on Sunday. As a result, we’ve gotten a lot of “Kyle Orton is no slouch” stories this week. The thing is, to paraphrase Ty Webb, “Orton is a tremendous slouch.” Orton is actually a fairly typical backup quarterback: If he’s your starter over a full season, chances are that your team isn’t going to make the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t play well for a game or two and help his team win.
Some Eagles fans think that Romo’s injury is a huge break for the Eagles, while others feel that Romo’s reputation as a choker means that the Eagles would have been better off facing him. Personally, I think it’s a huge break. Romo is obviously much more talented than Orton, and all it takes is a few big wins to erase a choker label. Remember that Peyton Manning isn’t considered to be clutch either, but he still has won a fair share of playoff games and is in possession of a Super Bowl ring.
Orton’s life will be made easier by the Cowboys’ impressive collection of skill position talent. DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten will be a lot for the Eagles to handle. If the Cowboys’ offensive line can give Orton time, he could potentially do some damage similar to what Matt Cassel did to them two weeks ago.
Featured Cowboys Player: DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware and Trent Cole were in similar situations entering the season. Both of them have been among the best defensive players in the league over the last few years; Cole racked up a ton of sacks as a 4-3 defensive end, while Ware did a lot of damage as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Both players faced a major adjustment in the offseason when their teams changed their defensive systems. The Eagles switched to a 3-4 alignment, while the Cowboys went in the other direction, adopting a 4-3.
Cole had some difficulties in the first half of the season, but he has really come on as of late. He was especially dominating last week when he racked up three sacks. Ware also had problems in shifting to a new position, but unlike Cole, he doesn’t seem to be improving as the season progresses. Partially due to injuries, Ware has not been the disruptive force that he once was, and for the first time in his career he is unlikely to reach double digits in sacks.
Ware is questionable for the game on Sunday, but if he plays, the Eagles will still have to account for him. Just because he hasn’t had his best season doesn’t mean that he isn’t capable of dominating a game. A strong performance in a must-win final game would go a along way towards turning a disappointing season into a successful one.
Key Eagles Storyline
Aside from the immense team implications, Sunday’s game could also be huge on a individual basis for LeSean McCoy. Barring an immense week by the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles, McCoy will likely become the first Eagle since Steve Van Buren in 1949 to win the rushing title.
In addition, McCoy needs 37 yards to break Wilbert Montgomery‘s team record for rushing yards in a season. The Cowboys have been poor at stopping the run all season, and they’ll be missing star linebacker Sean Lee. As long as the Eagles commit to the run, there’s a chance that McCoy could break Montgomery’s record in the first quarter.
This week will go a long way towards determining how Nick Foles is regarded in Philadelphia. If he plays poorly like he did the first time he faced the Cowboys, then there are going to be major question marks regarding his future as the long-term starter. If he plays well and leads the Eagles to the NFC East title, then people may start to regard him as a true franchise quarterback.
Elsewhere in the NFL
The NFC North champion is going to be decided on Sunday when the Packers face the Bears. The Bears had a chance to win the division outright last week, but as you may have heard, they didn’t exactly play their best game. Now, they have to face a Packers team that is getting quarterback Aaron Rodgers back. In other words, the Bears might have blown their best opportunity to make the playoffs.
Chappelle’s Show Skit that Relates to this Week’s Game
This is the biggest regular season game the Eagles have played in five years. The only thing bigger would be a World Series:
The Week in Andy
Dorsey: Looks like we’ve got nothing to play for this week.
Reid: What do you mean?
Dorsey: We have nothing to play for. Our playoff seeding is locked in.
Reid: Oh, that’s good.
Dorsey: So what do we do?
Reid: I don’t know. I guess we just sit everybody.
Dorsey: We’re going to rest all our players?
Reid: Sure. Or at least the good ones. So I guess we’ll have to sit down that quarterback guy. What’s his name again?
Dorsey: (Sighs) Alex Smith.
Reid: That sounds right. Who’s his backup?
Dorsey: You really don’t know who our backup quarterback is?
Reid: I don’t have my binders handy.
Dorsey: His name is Chase Daniel.
Reid: Doesn’t ring a bell. But let’s roll with it. We’ll see what the young kid’s got.
Dorsey: He’s been in the league for five years.
Reid: What’s that?
Dorsey: I said, sounds good, Coach.
Final Take and Prediction
The matchup seems to favor the Eagles. Barring a horrible game by Nick Foles (like the first time the teams met), the Eagles should have their way with the Cowboys’ defense, and without Romo, the Cowboys don’t seem capable of catching up.
Like I said, if the Eagles can’t beat the Cowboys, then they don’t deserve to win the East.
Eagles 34 – Cowboys 17
And remember to check back here on Sunday night as I once again write a live recap of the action. Will the game go as well as last time? We shall see.