Congratulations, you made it to Dallas Week with a reason to care. It wasn’t always easy, and there were an equal number of opportunities to despair along the way as there were to keep hope alive.
The same can be said in Texas, of course, and that is the bottom line for Sunday’s Clash of the Mediocres between 7-7 teams that picked the right season to be members of the NFC East.
The good news for Eagles fans is the game is a lock for the home team. They will definitely beat the Cowboys, hold serve against the Giants, and represent the division proudly with a home game in the wild-card round of the playoffs. I think it will be against San Francisco, a team that is leaking oil slightly after blowing a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead at home against the Falcons, but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Unfortunately, there is bad news, too. In keeping with the nature of the teams and the game itself, there is also no chance the Eagles will win against the Cowboys, a team that already beat them by 27 points this season. Sorry about that. When you dance on the edge of the cliff against the Giants and Redskins, a misstep against a better team is unavoidable.
So which is it? Let’s find out.
SURE THING #1: This is the time of year for Eagles magic. The previous two seasons should have made that eminently clear, as should the dramatic comebacks in the previous two weeks.
The Eagles needed to complete the job of the 2017 season without their franchise quarterback, and needed to do it again last season in the final three games to make the playoffs. This time around, they have their guy behind center and he is on a hot streak.
Surviving adversity before has given this team an indefinable something that isn’t measured with statistics. It has a heart that can’t be denied and a togetherness that will carry the team past the gutless Cowboys and their soon-to-be-fired head coach.
NO WAY #1: Ah, yes, “magic,” the final refuge of the truly delusional. How did that go in New Orleans in the playoffs?
NFL games are not decided by magic. They are usually won by the team with enough talent to make itself a bad matchup for the opponent. The Cowboys are a bad matchup for the Eagles.
Six of the seven Eagles losses have come against teams with passing offenses ranked among the top 12 in the league. (Miami was the exception.) For all the talk of finally getting healthy in the defensive backfield, the truth is that the Eagles aren’t very good there even when healthy.
The defensive line hasn’t brought enough consistent pressure to help out, and Jim Schwartz has been reduced to blitzing more than he would like. Against the No. 2 passing offense in the league, and against a starting quarterback who has been sacked the fewest times this season, this matchup will decide the game.
SURE THING #2: Dallas is a fraud. The Cowboys have won exactly one game against a team that currently has a winning record, and that was Sunday’s win against the 8-6 Rams. Faced with a decent opponent, Dallas folds.
The Cowboys lost this season to the Bills, Packers and Bears, all pretty good teams, and all teams that the Eagles beat. Admittedly, Dallas usually did better against the low-hanging fruit than the Eagles, but the Cowboys haven’t gained enough confidence to survive a real test. The Eagles went to Buffalo and won. They went to Green Bay and won. They know what that feels like.
The first game between the teams was a turnover fluke. The Cowboys got two early touchdowns because of fumbles by Dallas Goedert and Carson Wentz, and the snowball rolled downfield, culminating in another touchdown after another Wentz fumble. It was a bad game for the Eagles, but it wasn’t a measure of the two teams. On an even playing field, particularly in Philadelphia, that won’t happen again.
NO WAY #2: First of all, a Carson Wentz fumble isn’t a fluke. What were once vices are now habits, to quote noted football experts The Doobie Brothers. With his three fumbles against the Redskins, Wentz now has 46 in 54 career games, the most of any player since he joined the league in 2016. The Eagles are a minus-6 in turnovers this season. Wentz has lost seven fumbles. Do the math.
It’s true the Cowboys lost their bigger tests this season. Those losses, however, included a two-point game against New Orleans, and four-point games against Minnesota and New England. A play here, a play there, and they pull out two of those and are 9-5 and we’re not having this conversation.
Don’t discount Sunday’s beatdown of the Rams. That was a statement game, and it sends the Cowboys into Philadelphia on a confident high.
SURE THING #3: If you’re looking for a statement, look no further than Wentz this Sunday. This game is the stage he has been waiting for. Bad luck has kept him from the postseason so far, but he’s going to make his own luck against the Cowboys.
The two fourth-quarter comebacks are just the beginning of his statement. He knows people question what the Eagles did to move up and draft him as the franchise quarterback of the future, and certainly question the enormous contract extension he received before this season. He knows he is doubted, and there is a fire that burns within that semi-goofy North Dakota exterior that is about to burst forth.
He’s getting it done this season with backups, rookies and practice-squad players. Make no mistake about it. To finish off this season at home, in front of a crowd that will witness his greatest moment, by beating the team’s most hated rival, is the story he is meant to write.
NO WAY #3: Let’s start with the Linc. The Eagles have hosted six regular-season games in the past three seasons against teams that finished 2017 or 2018 with a winning record or, in the case of this year’s schedule, currently have one. They are 2-4 in those games, so leave aside the big, bad home-field advantage angle. (That’s not including a loss to Dallas when the Eagles rested everyone at the end of 2017.)
As for Wentz, one guy’s motivation is another guy’s suffocating pressure. So, yes, we’ll see how he does. The flip side of the coin is Dak Prescott and the ultimate referendum on how each team approached that 2016 draft.
The Cowboys needed a quarterback, too, but stayed put with the No. 4 pick and took Ezekiel Elliott. Worked out pretty well. Much later, with the 135th pick in the supplemental portion of the fourth round, they grabbed Prescott. Also worked out.
Think Prescott reflects on how that draft went, and how much he savors playing against the guy taken 133 picks ahead of him? Prescott is 4-1 career vs. the Eagles (not counting a Cowboys lie-down in 2016 or the previously mentioned 2017 finale) and has won three straight. He has a story to write, too.
CONCLUSION: Yes, there will be a conclusion, and it will arrive at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday. It should be worth waiting for, although we already know with certainty that the Eagles can’t lose. Unless, of course, they can’t win.
It’s been that kind of season.