Here are the individual matchups to keep an eye on this Sunday as the Eagles travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys for the NFC East division title ...
NT Jay Ratliff vs. C Nick Cole
Ratliff has emerged as perhaps the league's premier nose tackle, especially against the pass. The 6-4, 303 pound Ratliff has also been a terror against the Eagles, with four sacks in his last four games against the Eagles, including two in the last meeting. On the season, Ratliff has six sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. So it will be baptism by fire for Cole as he starts the first game of his career at center. At 6-0, 350 pounds, Cole has a low center of gravity and shouldn't be pushed around by Ratliff, but he will also be concerned with quarterbacking the offensive line. A week's worth of practice should do wonders to improve the chemistry between Cole and McNabb, as well as with the rest of the offensive line. Cole will surely be helped at times by left guard Todd Herremans and whomever plays right guard, as giving McNabb time to throw will be paramount.
WR Miles Austin vs. CB Sheldon Brown
What a difference one play can make. Brown and the rest of the Eagles' secondary kept Austin in check for the entire game in the Week 9 meeting, holding the breakout wide receiver to a single catch. Unfortunately for the Eagles, that one catch was the game-winning 49-yard touchdown catch and run. The Eagles can not afford any such letdowns this week against Austin. In his first season with extended playing time, Austin has emerged as one of the league's most difficult players to tackle after the catch, and he's been the key to the Cowboys' offense. Brown is enjoying a Pro Bowl-caliber year himself, notching five interceptions and providing his standard rugged style of play at cornerback. The Eagles' cornerbacks rarely switch sides of the field, so Austin will likely be matched up against both Brown and Asante Samuel at times, but Brown is expected to get the bulk of the responsibility. Brown can't be expected to shut Austin out in Dallas, but as long as he keeps the physical receiver in front of him, the Eagles will be content.
For the complete Eagles-Cowboys preview, as well as what color jersey the Eagles are wearing, check out the Gameday section.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 6:12 p.m., December 28