Fresh off the heart-thumping 30-27 win over Denver, the Eagles have turned their attention to Dallas and Sunday, knowing what is riding on this game and how crazy the playoff picture remains with one game left in the regular season. Isn't this as it should be? Eagles at Cowboys, an NFC East title and playoff seeding riding on it? It truly doesn't get better than this, and the very real prospects of Eagles-Cowboys for two straight weeks is absolutely mind-boggling.
First things first, though. The seeding situation is so fluid and the Eagles can be seeded anywhere from a No. 2 seed with a bye week -- that happens with a win over Dallas and a loss by Minnesota to either Chicago tonight or the Giants next -- or a sixth seed and a road game during Wild Card playoff weekend.
The Eagles win the NFC East and clinch at least a home playoff game by beating Dallas. That is all they control, and that is the only focus. The Eagles have some things to clean up and they know it. Let's talk about the immediate picture ...
**1. Is Jamaal Jackson OK?
Seeing an ironman center go down during a game and not return is sobering. Jackson suffered a sprained knee and is having an MRI today. Without Jackson in the lineup, the Eagles used Nick Cole at center and Max Jean-Gilles at right guard, and that is a combination they could very well use should Jackson not play in Dallas on Sunday.
There is also the possibility that the Eagles could use Stacy Andrews at right guard if Jackson can't play center and if Cole is the guy against Dallas. The Cowboys are excellent up front, very fast and physical, and if Jackson can't go, it will cause the Eagles to make some adjustments. Don't kid yourself into thinking that the offensive line is the same minus Jackson. He is the brains of the operation, and he happens to be an excellent pass protector.
So that is the first worry. Jackson's injury was on Andy Reid's mind as he addressed the media after beating Denver, no doubt about it.
**2. Can Quintin Demps Get Back On The Field?
You see how important the return game is in the NFL. Macho Harris struggled big time against the Broncos. His lost fumble turned the game around and gave Denver all kinds of momentum. And while Harris has generally be OK in the return game this season, it is nice to have some experience there, and that is what Demps provides.
Demps has been bothered by a sprained ankle for the last month. Let's hope he is healthy enough to play at Dallas.
*3. Sizing Up Dallas *
The Cowboys are an excellent football team and they are playing great defense right now. They beat New Orleans on the road and then stomped on Washington on Sunday night. Dallas is 10-5, and we know the Cowboys beat the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. There really are no surprises. Dallas has a well-balanced offense, a pressure defense and the special teams are making big plays.
As happened last year, the regular season ends against Dallas. This time, both teams have already clinched playoff spots. This game is for the division and playoff seeding.
What happens against Dallas? Well, the Eagles need to play a much better game than they did in the 20-16 loss on November 8. The offense sputtered and coughed and never really got anything going. The team didn't finish the fourth quarter well at all. Dallas' defense did its part, and quarterback Tony Romo found wide receiver Miles Austin for a huge third-down conversion and a touchdown to turn the tide in Dallas' favor.
Reid has had great success in Dallas, compiling a 7-3 record on the road against the Cowboys. This is, of course, the Eagles' first game in the Cowboys' new stadium, so it will be a spectacle for everyone.
The two best teams in the division are squaring off, an appropriate way to end the regular season and determine the division winner.
**4. Where Does Brian Westbrook Factor Into Things?
Westbrook did not play in that first Dallas game, but he is on track to play here after carrying 9 times and getting 11 touches in the win over Denver. Westbrook should be better than he was against the Broncos, but he really did look pretty good after sitting out for five games as he recovered from his concussion.
The Eagles have run the ball effectively in the six-game winning streak and would like to do the same against an excellent Dallas defense. The formula is this: Score early and take the Cowboys fans out of the game right away. Westbrook should get some touches both in the running game and in the passing game. He should play fast on that Dallas turf, too.
**5. Any Other Injuries?
Michael Vick continues to rehab from his quad injury. The Eagles would love to get him back and have Vick work back into the mix in the short-yardage and goal-line situations in which he has helped so much. Wide receiver Kevin Curtis was inactive on Sunday even though he practiced all week. At this point, Curtis is the team's fifth wide receiver and it is hard to dress five on game days.
Otherwise, the Eagles emerged from the win over Denver healthy. Jackson, Vick and Demps are the players to watch this week as the team prepares for Dallas.