There is no margin for error, and the Eagles know it. Locked in a race with Dallas at the top of the NFC East race and with a handful of other teams in the conference playoff battle, the Eagles can afford no slips, slides or pratfalls.
Welcome to the stretch run, a particularly wonderful time in the NFL season. Every game means everything in a 16-game season, of course, but we know that intensify in late November and throughout December. The jockeying for position is finished. The Eagles survived a spate of early-season obstacles to put themselves just about where we all thought they would be 10 games into 2014: At the top of the NFC East.
What almost nobody considered was that Dallas would be in lockstep with the Eagles, and that these four NFC East games among the six remaining would determine the winner of the division.
So down the stretch the Eagles go ...
"We're on a game-by-game basis," cornerback Cary Williams said. "We are focused on our business. That's all we can control. Every game is big. That's the way we've approached it since the start of the season. We talk about 'one-game season' all the time. This isn't any different. We know what can happen in the NFL if you lose your focus."
As Kansas City found out in Oakland on Thursday night, and as Denver learned in St. Louis on Sunday, upsets happen in this league. All the time. Tennessee has a 2-8 record, but the Eagles know the Titans are loaded with young talent and play aggressive, hard-nosed football and nearly took one from Pittsburgh on Monday night.
"Very good football team, and the defense gets after it," center Jason Kelce said. "They're a handful."
So while the Eagles have their sights set on Tennessee, here are some thoughts from this perspective on the NFC playoff picture and what it looks like for your favorite team ...
THE NFC EAST: A TWO-TEAM RACE
The Eagles and Cowboys play each other twice in a 17-day span that starts on Thanksgiving Day. Both of those games are, of course, critical. Dallas also has some very tough games in addition to the ones against the Eagles.
As short as next week is for the Eagles, who will travel to Dallas on Wednesday for Thursday's game, the Cowboys are on the road for a Sunday night game at the Giants and should get back to Texas at, oh, about 3 or 4 a.m. on Monday. The turnaround is very short for Dallas to get ready for the Eagles after what should be a physical game against a struggling Giants team that doesn't like the Cowboys even a little bit.
Between the games against the Eagles, Dallas goes to Chicago to play the Bears on Thursday, December 4. The Bears are having a terrible season, they will be at home and on national television and the talent level there says Chicago could rise up and win a game like this.
Dallas closes its regular season with a home game against a good Colts team and a road game at Washington, which beat the Cowboys earlier this season.
THE CONFERENCE PICTURE
Crowded. The NFC East is jammed with possibilities. We can say this with relative certainty, though: Arizona, with an NFL-best 9-1 record, is going to make the playoffs in some way, shape or form and that only one team from the NFC South, the winner of the division -- Atlanta leads with a 4-6 record, 4-0 in that division, over 4-6 New Orleans and 3-7-1 Carolina -- is going to make the postseason.
Otherwise, it's fun chaos.
Seattle and San Francisco are both 6-4 and play each other twice. Seattle has a brutal schedule, with another home-and-away set against Arizona, a road trip to Philadelphia and a home game against a tough St. Louis team, to finish its schedule. The 49ers host Washington, play home and away against Seattle, play at Oakland, host San Diego and finish home against Arizona.
In the NFC North, the Packers and Lions are both 7-3, and the Lions hold the advantage because of a superior division record. But the Packers are the team to beat here. They are surging, as we witnessed last Sunday at Lambeau Field. And the Green Bay schedule is not terribly daunting, with road games at Minnesota, Buffalo and Tampa Bay mixed in with a home schedule against New England, Atlanta and Detroit.
The Lions go to New England on Sunday, host Chicago, Tampa Bay and Minnesota and then finish at Chicago and at Green Bay.
There is, then, great competition for not only division titles but for wild card spots as well. The Eagles, Dallas, Green Bay, Detroit, Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco are in the mix for the wild card openings.
If the Eagles take care of their business, everything is going to be just fine. They control their fate. They know the wiggle room just isn't there.
"Let's just go out and play football, play our game," quarterback Mark Sanchez said. "That's all we can worry about. That's all we're focused on. Let's go play our best football and see what happens."