The road in the final month of the season, as expected, is going to be a tough one. The New York Giants, already good, are about to be healthy. The Cowboys, as talented as they come, are still playing inspired football. And the Vikings, well, they have firepower like few offenses in the league.
Strap up the belt buckles, Eagles fans. We are in for a great ride ahead.
I'm not sure the NFC playoff picture cleared up all that much. At least one team with a lot of wins is going to miss the playoffs, because the Eagles and Packers and Bears and Saints and Giants and Falcons are all winning. Atlanta is a heartbeat behind at 7-5. Some team in the NFC West will make the playoffs without a lot of victories.
So the formula is to keep winning and let the rest take care of itself.
Straight ahead is a Sunday night game at Dallas, and the Cowboys played an epic game at the Colts on Sunday. They raced out to a 17-0 lead and then fell behind and then took the lead and then the game went into overtime and Dallas produced the big takeaway and won the game. Dallas is a good football team. Excellent talent. Quarterback Jon Kitna is running a balanced offense with a powerful running game and a fistful of weapons at his disposal in the passing game.
Head coach Jason Garrett has restored balanced to the Cowboys offense and it is paying off. The tandem of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice ran all over the Colts on Sunday, combining for 183 yards. The offensive line, while spotty in pass protection, road graded the Colts and set the template for what is going to be the game plan ahead: run first to set up the pass. Rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant has a fractured ankle and won't play. Miles Austin and Roy Williams are two receivers who are on the same page as Kitna, so they are dangerous.
But the Eagles are going to have to concentrate on the run. They can't let the Cowboys dictate, as they did last season, with the running game. Garrett has the Cowboys believing in themselves after the debacle with Wade Phillips. Dallas is 3-1 with Garrett at the helm.
Defensively, Dallas has some holes. Peyton Manning had absolutely no running game to count on in Sunday's game, so he launched 48 passes, completed 36. He passed for 365 yards, but also threw 4 interceptions. Dallas returned a pair of those picks for touchdowns and raced to the big lead.
It was a huge win for Dallas, although it came at the cost of losing Bryant, the dynamic return man and big-play receiver. Dallas has a couple of defensive backs banged up, too, and we will keep an eye on that through the week.
An early thought is that the defensive line has a huge task. Trent Cole needs help rushing the passer and the effort has to be supreme against the running game. Dallas is back, make no mistake about it. This is a dynamic team, a physical team and one that has a lot of momentum. Plus, the Cowboys have absolutely nothing to lose in this game. Dallas isn't going to the playoffs, but the Cowboys are going to be a factor in which teams make the post-season.
The Giants steamrolled a lousy Washington team. What I saw was a Giants running game that blew the doors off of the Redskins, a team that looked like it played uninspired football on the road. Brandon Jacobs is alive again, and he and Ahmad Bradshaw are a terrific duo. With no real threats in the passing game, the Giants kept it simple, kept it powerful and pushed the Redskins all over the field.
New York's defense is gaining a large boost from rookie lineman Jason Pierre-Paul, who has four sacks in his last two games. That's big-time talent there in concert with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. The Giants have the advantage in that they now have three big-time pass rushers, and it is very difficult to game plan for multiple threats up front.
New York has a test on Sunday at Minnesota, which woke up and smashed the Bills behind Adrian Peterson. The question with Minnesota is at quarterback, naturally. Is Brett Favre the right option, or should the Vikings go with Tarvaris Jackson, who threw a couple of touchdown passes (and 3 interceptions) against Buffalo.
Four games remain. All four are going to be battles. The Eagles need to get Asante Samuel and Juqua Parker and Winston Justice healthy, and then they have to play their best football of the season in the final month. A win over the Giants, plus two other wins, gives the Eagles the title in the NFC East. But there is more at stake. Atlanta is 10-2 and in firm control of the race for the No. 1 seed. Chicago is 9-3 with a brutal schedule ahead. The Saints are right there, too, doing just enough to win the last couple of weeks in touch games. Green Bay is as good as any team in the NFC at 8-4.
This is great! The NFL couldn't have a better scenario in the NFC with four games to play. The Eagles had the benefit of a late semi-bye weekend, and they have to take advantage of it next week at Dallas. It's a big game. They all are big games. The fun continues at Cowboys Stadium.