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Eagle Scout: Cowboys-Eagles will have meaning only if Giants lose

The Eagles will be either playing for their playoff life or playing for nothing. And they'll find out pretty much right before Saturday's 4:15 p.m. kickoff at Dallas whether it's the former or the latter.

The Eagles will be either playing for their playoff life or playing for nothing. And they'll find out pretty much right before Saturday's 4:15 p.m. kickoff at Dallas whether it's the former or the latter.

So the Eagles' preparation for the Cowboys should be unaffected by the outcome of the New York Giants-Jets game. But after they finish their prep work, it's anyone's guess how they'll perform.

A Jets victory, and the Eagles would know the task at hand: They have to win. If the Giants win, however, then the Eagles' season would come to a sudden conclusion and the three-plus hours that follow will have little meaning.

Sudden is a relative word in this case, because the 6-8 Eagles would have been eliminated from playoff contention long ago if it weren't for the mediocrity of the NFC East.

Neither the Cowboys (8-6) nor the Giants (7-7) grabbed the division by the horns when it was there for the taking. That both squads lost to the Eagles over the last eight weeks shows that any one of the three teams could have won this thing - and, in fact, each still can.

When the Eagles routed Dallas, 34-7, on Oct. 30, the rest of the league was put on notice. The Eagles were back, the thought went - except they weren't. They lost their next two until they won at New York. Hope remained, but then the Eagles dropped two in a row again.

They won the next two, though, and by some miracle they're still alive entering Week 16. The Eagles might be dead by the time Santa starts stocking his sleigh, but it's the Cowboys, and that should be motivation alone.

Here is how the teams match up:

When the Eagles pass

In the first meeting, Dallas was intent on stopping DeSean Jackson, and that's pretty much what the Cowboys did. They almost always had a safety deep, and Jackson caught only three passes for 31 yards. But all the attention on the speedy receiver opened up the middle, and that's where Michael Vick did a lot of his damage, hitting tight end Brent Celek with seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Celek has been a beast since that game. It will be interesting to see whether Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will try to clog the middle this time. He should be able to do that if DeMarcus Ware (16 sacks) and the Cowboys pass rushers can get after Vick without much of a blitz. The Eagles offensive line, though, was excellent last week against the Jets and didn't allow a sack.


When the Eagles run

LeSean McCoy set a career high with 30 carries for 185 rushing yards in the first game against Dallas. It was a breakout Sunday night game in what has become a breakout season for the third-year running back. Dallas' run defense is ranked seventh in the league, but it obviously wasn't stout enough to stop McCoy the first time around. The Cowboys were without linebacker Sean Lee for most of that game after he broke his hand trying to tackle McCoy. Lee is back, though, and playing with a club-shaped cast over his hand.

When the Cowboys pass

Since losing to the Eagles, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has been a marksman, tossing 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Romo, though, has had a split personality when facing the Eagles over the years, and when he's bad - as he was two months ago - he's really bad. Tight end Jason Witten is normally an Eagles killer, but he caught only 4 of 12 passes thrown in his direction that day. Witten remains Romo's top target, but receiver Laurent Robinson has joined Dez Bryant as the Cowboys' best big-play threats. If Romo has time in the pocket, he'll find those guys and the now-healthy Miles Austin. But defensive ends Jason Babin (18 sacks) and Trent Cole (nine) will try to have their say.

When the Cowboys run

Dallas is thin at running back, especially if Felix Jones (hamstring) can't go. The word out of Arlington, Texas, was that he's playing, but even so, he's not likely to be 100 percent. If he's held out or reinjures himself, 12-year veteran Sammy Morris, who was signed last week after DeMarco Murray was lost for the season with a broken ankle, would get the call. The Eagles have gotten significantly better at stopping the run of late, but much of their success or failure will depend on whether the Eagles offense can get ahead early and thus force Romo to throw more than usual.

Special teams

The Eagles special teams, sound for most of the season, have had a couple of sloppy weeks. Two weeks ago, Curtis Marsh fumbled after an ill-advised lateral on a punt return at Miami. Then last week, Marsh got in the way of a bouncing football on a punt return and turned the ball over to the Jets. And later, Dion Lewis coughed the ball up on a kickoff return. Dallas' return teams aren't much better. The Eagles' Alex Henery, meanwhile, has been a more consistent field-goal kicker lately, but Dallas' Dan Bailey has been tested more even if he failed to connect late against the Giants two weeks ago.


Both the Eagles and Cowboys will be rooting for a Jets win over the Giants. If the Giants lose and the Cowboys win, Dallas would clinch the NFC East. If the Giants win, however, the Eagles game will have no bearing on who wins the division because the Cowboys still have to beat New York the following week for the division crown.