AS AN OUTSIDER, it is hard to believe a coach when he says he views a big game in December the same way he looked at a game in September.

The Eagles and Cowboys both take 9-4 records into Sunday night's game at Lincoln Financial Field.

It is for sole possession of first place in the NFC East and will provide the winner with a solid inside track to the division title and a playoff berth.

The loser could very well have its playoff chances ended, no matter how it does in the final two games, depending on results elsewhere in the NFL. Finishing at 11-5 but sitting home for the postseason is a real possibility for that team.

So, with so much at stake, how can Chip Kelly say with a straight face that this game holds no more significance than the season opener against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars?

"I would argue that they all [have the same significance]," Kelly said. "If we didn't beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, then we only have eight wins and now we are in a lot tougher situation.

"If we don't go Week 2, kick a field goal at the Indianapolis Colts, now we've got seven wins and we're really scrapping.

"They all add up. It's just when you get toward the end of the season, this game looks like it's magnified, but it's only magnified for us because of the number of wins we have going into it."

Damn Chip Kelly and his infernal logic.

The mystique of December football is too much fun for a practical evaluation to lessen it into a fallacy.

All the stakes that exist for this Eagles/Cowboys encounter remain the same, but there is no denying Kelly is correct when he says it is so only because of what both teams have done thus far.

Because it adds to the drama and makes things more interesting, you want to believe that the Eagles and Cowboys coaches and players are looking at this game and chomping the bit a little harder.

It's not the same when you accept the logic that these guys aren't working any harder than when they did when the Eagles played the Tennessee Titans or Dallas faced the Houston Texans in Week 5.

Just about every coach says the same thing as Kelly.

Andy Reid, who had a lot of big December games while coaching the Eagles, said the same thing for over a decade.

I admit I took it with a grain of salt, simply considered it more "coachspeak" from Reid.

But Kelly is more convincing, probably more convincing than any coach I've been around in my 2 decades in Philadelphia.

He has the ultimate poker face when he talks. You rarely think he is bluffing.

And when you do think he might be hedging, he then bangs you with some logic that makes you think, "Well, yeah, that does make sense."

"I've never met a coach like that," Kelly said of getting more or less excited for one game depending on its place on the schedule. "I don't think a coach ever goes in and says, 'This game doesn't have a real practical thing to us winning. We've got a two-game lead going into this, so we can take it easy this week, because a win is important, but it's not that important.'

"I don't think I've ever met anybody who would ever say that . . . Anytime we go out to play - and we only get 16 chances - we're going out to win, because they all are a big game."

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who played in a lot of playoff-deciding games in December with the New Orleans Saints before coming to Philadelphia, said it just a difference in perspective.

"The reality of it is that every game counts," Jenkins said. "There is just more emphasis on this time of the year, because people see the end of the picture.

"If you really keep the big picture in mind, every game counts toward that. What happens is that a loss early, you still have time to make up for, so people tend to not weigh it the same. In reality, a win is a win and a loss is a loss."

It's actually a good thing Kelly and his players have conditioned themselves to stay away from the "quality" of a win or loss.

Not only does that keep them from smelling themselves too much after laying a beat-down as they did against Dallas on Thanksgiving but it also allows them to quickly let go off of difficult losses like the ones to Green Bay and Seattle.

"You have to look at it as the stakes are all the same," Jenkins said. "If we don't win all of those games earlier, this game against Dallas wouldn't even be a big deal.

"It helps us to prepare week to week with the same mentality, with the same intensity and the same routine. We can come back from a loss or move on from a win without it affecting us, because we are not getting too high or too low."

It all makes sense, but it's more fun to think this game against Dallas is more significant than one against Jacksonville.

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL