Handicapping the NFC East
Looking at the Eagles and Cowboys heading into the final four games of the season.
THE BATTLE of the NFC East will come down to the Eagles and Cowboys, just as it did in last season's de facto division championship match in Week 17, an 24-22 Eagles victory in Dallas.
Following their trouncing of the 'Boys on Thanksgiving, the Eagles control pole position in the race for the division.
A Week 15 rematch between the rivals on "Sunday Night Football'' could be a knockout win for the Eagles, who would clinch the division with another victory against Dallas if they enter the rematch one game up on Dallas.
Check below for a look at how each team has fared through 12 games and projects over the last quarter of the season:
Position: 1st place in NFC East.
Best win: Week 13 at Cowboys, 33-10.
Worst loss: Week 11 at Packers, 53-20.
Season highlight: J-Mac and J-Matt. The veteran rebounding from a torn ACL and a missed season and the rookie coming off a much-praised training camp have thrived under Chip Kelly. Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews have excelled despite inconsistent quarterback play at times from both Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez. Maclin's 71 catches and 1,088 receiving yards are already career highs. Matthews is on pace for 915 receiving yards, which would be the most of any Eagles rookie ever.
Biggest surprise: Pass rush. After ranking 20th in the NFL with just 37 sacks in 2013, Billy Davis' front seven has been revitalized this season, their second in his 3-4 front. The Eagles already have 42 sacks, second in the league, with four games still to be played. Former jack-of-all-trades outside linebacker Connor Barwin has morphed into a pass-rushing force, as his career-high 12.5 sacks were tied for second among all defenders going into yesterday.
Remaining schedule: Seahawks (8-4), Cowboys (8-4), at Redskins (3-9), at Giants (3-9).
About the remaining schedule: The Eagles' final two home games in the next 2 weeks present the biggest challenges the rest of the season, but are winnable. The Seahawks are 6-1 in their last seven games and coming off a big Thanksgiving road win of their own at San Francisco, but are only 3-3 on the road.
A rematch with a Dallas squad that might be fighting for its playoff life follows the next week. The Eagles have the added benefit of being home at the Linc that Sunday night against the Cowboys.
Two divisional road games close the season, and the Eagles should be able to handle the disaster that is going on in Washington and a Giants team that surrendered a 21-point lead in a loss to the 2-10 Jaguars yesterday.
Prediction: 13-3, 2nd seed in NFC.
Position: 2nd place in NFC East.
Best win: Week 6 at Seahawks, 30-23. Worst loss: Week 13 vs. Eagles, 33-10.
Season highlight: DeMarco Murray. Despite Murray being held to 73 rushing yards on Thanksgiving, his lowest total since the last game of 2013, Murray's 1,427 yards on the ground top the NFL. At 5.0 yards per carry, Murray has flourished despite an increased workload, as his 24.0 carries per game are almost eight more than his career high. An improved offensive line that has added stud rookie Zach Martin at right guard has given Murray plenty of running lanes this season.
Biggest surprise: Tony Romo's durability. Despite offseason back surgery and a back contusion this season, Romo has started 11 of the Cowboys' 12 games this season, valiantly playing through obvious pain. He's still performed well in the face of these injuries; he was tied for the second-most yards per pass attempt (8.4) going into yesterday's games. His interception rate of 2.5 percent is also slightly below his career mark of 2.7 percent. The wear and tear, however, may finally be getting to Romo, as he frequently dropped to the ground in the face of pressure instead of taking on a big hit against the Eagles on Thursday. His ability to stay on the field is obviously essential to whether Dallas ends its 4-year playoff drought.
Remaining schedule: at Bears (5-7), at Eagles (9-3), Colts (8-4), at Washington (3-9)
About the remaining schedule: Dallas travels to Chicago on Thursday. The Bears are another team reeling from a big Thanksgiving loss to a division rival. Chicago's defense may be one of the few units worse than Dallas'; the teams were fourth (6.0) and sixth (5.9), respectively, in yards per play allowed going into yesterday's action.
Dallas should be able to take care of the Bears, before heading to the Linc for a contest against an Eagles team that dominated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. The Eagles match up well against the 'Boys, as their superb run defense has shut down Murray and their relentless pass rush causes havoc for a gun-shy Romo.
Looking at Week 16, Andrew Luck, who had a five-touchdown performance yesterday against Washington, will be a huge test for Dallas' defense that was surrendering the sixth-most net yards per pass entering yesterday's games.
Ending the season against a terrible Washington squad in a game that will likely decide Dallas' playoff fate is a plus for the Cowboys.
Prediction: 10-6, out of the playoffs