YOU'RE CONFLICTED, right?
Game 16 of the Eagles' schedule had "SHOWDOWN" written in boldface caps. Birds vs. Cowboys, probably the Sunday night game on NBC, a potential numbers-busting audience ready to fire up those new flat screens Santa would buy with bailout money.
Then the Eagles suffered an acute case of crunch-time dysentery Sunday afternoon in the Redskins' FedExField. With full control of their playoff destiny - such as it would have been - the Birds deposited a fresh layer of guano on the dead grass during a game that proved football is, indeed, a game of inches and flinches.
The network and NFL suits swiftly moved what had been a dream season closer out of prime time and into temporary limbo.
Once the winner-moves-on, loser-takes-a-hike matchup between the Broncos and Chargers became the obvious must-see for NBC - San Diego advances with an 8-8 record thanks to the tiebreak advantage - the NFL had to slot Eagles-Cowboys at 1 o'clock. But commissioner Roger Goodell came out of the league's PR department, not the drama department. It would have been dramatically correct for the Bucs, Bears, Vikings, Birds and Cowboys all simultaneously slugging away for that second NFC wild-card berth. Bucs win, it's over for Andy and the South Philly Air Force. Vikes and Bears both win, it's over. That's a lot of possible overs to overcome. And if the Bucs, Vikes and Bears all lose, the Eagles still have to beat the Cowboys.
It appears the NFL liked the long odds against the Vikings and Bears both losing and went all-in on a dispirited Eagles team playing a so-what game at 4:15, Jeffrey Lurie's absolutely worst time of day to play against a division rival - particularly the Cowboys.
There also is the not inconsiderable matter of the 'Pokes' being a late-game ratings leader. Under normal circumstances, it's a perfect-storm setup for the Eagles. Fans a little sauced after the long tailgate festivities . . . Hated rival, with anybody in the Linc brave enough to wear the despised Cowboys raiment at risk . . . Possible snow and/or ice on the field, on the seats, in the air.
Fortunately, it will not be a weather game. Well, at least it won't snow. Kickoff weather should be dry with the temperature 48-50 and not a snowball in sight. Perfect weather to chant anything from "Cowboys Suck!" to "Andy Must Go."
Dallas has had a lot more experience with the playoffs and beyond than the Eagles, of course. It is no secret that the Cowboys enjoy Most Favored Team status, and have for decades. However, some Metroplex media members are shocked, shocked, I say, by the NFL's apparent starting-time manipulation. Columnist Tim Cowlishaw tossed this out on the Dallas Morning News Web site:
"Is the NFL doing everything in its power to get the Dallas Cowboys into the playoffs? Conspiracy theorists will tell you it's true. Because of the league's flex scheduling rules, the Cowboys-Eagles game was moved back to the more popular [and higher rated] 3:15 [Central] time slot Sunday. On the surface, the move makes sense. But dig a little deeper. Tampa Bay, Chicago and Minnesota all play noon [Central] games. If the Bucs win, or if the Bears and Vikings both win, the Eagles are eliminated from playoff contention."
Now, here's the hook:
"It's one thing to say that the Eagles and their fans hate Dallas and that they will play a good game regardless. If that was the only motivation all week, I think that would be the case. But the Eagles are going to prepare all week in hopes that a victory will get them into the playoffs. To learn after you have warmed up and just before kickoff that you have been eliminated can be devastating. We shall see how it plays out."
Given that scenario, the Eagles might burst from their cocoon of mediocrity and pound the Cowboys silver and blue, so to speak. The Packers, playing for pride and exercise against a bitter rival, came within a frozen eyelash of knocking the Bears out of the playoffs Monday night.
The saddle was on the other horse 3 years ago. The Cowboys were riding a bubble, where, to make the playoffs, the Panthers or Redskins had to lose and they had to beat the Rams. The Panthers and 'Skins both won and Dallas went out that night flatter than East Texas and lost to the Rams in listless fashion.
Best - or worst - moment of the afternoon might be just before the Birds line up for the opening kickoff. Check the body language of a squad that is either playing for next year or still in the hunt in the year when they have frittered so many golden chances away. *
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