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Romo status puts pressure on Eagles

Now the Birds are heavy favorites and the Cowboys can play loose as underdogs.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. (Tim Sharp/AP)
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. (Tim Sharp/AP)Read more

I AM THE KIND of guy who plays poker about once every 5 years and have to look online before the game to remind myself what beats what. I have no illusions about my own ability. But after watching that press conference late yesterday afternoon from the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility, I am sure of one thing:

I want to play poker with Jason Garrett.

ESPN had reported that quarterback Tony Romo was out for the season with a back injury, and Garrett was sent out to the microphones and given the task of putting the toothpaste back into the tube. And the Cowboys' coach did try to do just that, bless his heart.

But his face, it just betrayed him. Every time Garrett attempted to say that no decision on Romo's status for Sunday night's play-in game against the Eagles had yet been made, that he was undergoing therapy like all injured players, that they would continue with the therapy and see how Romo felt later in the week, the pained look on Garrett's face as he navigated through his answers was so obvious.

With that, welcome Kyle Orton - and a whole different set of concerns for the Eagles; smaller concerns, but different concerns.

Because the pressure here is now on the Eagles.

As they began their game on Sunday night against the Chicago Bears, the Eagles were seen as 2 1/2-point underdogs to the Cowboys at some online bookmakers. The morning after their 54-11 win over the Bears, the line had flipped and the Eagles were three-point favorites. Within an hour of the ESPN report, the Eagles were 7 1/2-point favorites. The swing has been wild, and for good reason. Orton, after all, is the guy who was benched by the Denver Broncos in favor of Tim Tebow in 2011.

Along the way - when he played in Chicago and Denver - Orton played well against the Eagles in two games, winning one and losing one. That is a few years ago, granted, but he could win on Sunday night if the Eagles don't take the game seriously. Of course, the odds that the Eagles won't take the game seriously, given the stakes, are approximately zero.

Here is the Cowboys' dilemma. Common sense suggests that, with Orton in there, they probably want to run the ball as much as they can and shorten the game as much as possible. DeMarco Murray left, DeMarco Murray right, DeMarco Murray middle - and hang on tight and hope that Orton can make a play or two along the way.

The problem, of course, is the Eagles' offense. Even acknowledging the way Nick Foles played the first time around, everything about this game - about Foles' recent play and about the Cowboys' wretched defense - suggests that the Eagles will likely find their way to 30 points. And there is no way the Cowboys are going to get to 30 with a game plan predicated on a strategy of playing hide-the-quarterback.

All of which brings us back to the smaller concerns but different concerns. Everybody loves to hate Romo, but this game gets measurably easier for the Eagles without him. Everybody knows that, including the Cowboys. But here is the thing: If the Cowboys are somehow liberated by the notion that they are underdogs, the game gets interesting if they can find a way to hang around for a half.

They have been suffocated in some ways - Romo, all of them - by their inability to fulfill expectations. Before all of this, Sunday night at AT & T Stadium was going to be this taut, nervous morality play, especially for Romo but really for the entire Cowboys team.

Now, how do they act when there are no expectations at all? You only have a puncher's chance if you are willing to throw a punch - and what if Romo's injury frees them to do just that?

I don't think it's going to happen. I think the Eagles will win comfortably. But there is no denying that Chip Kelly's team suddenly finds itself in an expected situation. When you are a touchdown favorite on the road in a de facto playoff game, the pressure is on you.

On Twitter: @theidlerich