The Cowboys and Eagles will meet on Sunday for the unofficial NFC East championship game. The winner isn't guaranteed anything but will be atop the division standings and in control of the race for the division title.
There have been some similar games over the last decade. The teams met in mid-December of 2014 and battled for control of the division. The game was in Philly, but Dallas won. In 2013, the teams met in Dallas in the season finale with the division title on the line. The Eagles won that. There was no home-field advantage in those games.
The Cowboys and Eagles played in the 2009 season finale, again with the division on the line. Dallas was at home and won 24-0. In 2008, the teams met in Philly in the season finale. They were playing for a Wild Card berth. That turned out to be one of the great games in Eagles history, with the good guys winning 44-6. Homefield advantage did matter in those games.
History won't mean a whole lot to the players on the field Sunday afternoon. They don't have time to look ahead or behind. That's what happens when both teams have been so inconsistent that they have no more wiggle room. Win or else.
Dallas is on a four-game winning streak. The Cowboys' defense has been terrific, limiting all four teams to 23 points or fewer. No team has run for more than 80 yards in that stretch. Dak Prescott hasn't thrown an interception in the four games and is playing his best football of the year. Receiver Amari Cooper has had a real impact on the passing game.
The Cowboys are playing their best football of the year.
The Eagles are on a two-game winning streak. The defense has been outstanding over the last six quarters, only giving up 291 yards and 16 points. The offense has scored 25 or more points in each of the games. The offensive line has been terrific at protecting Carson Wentz and in opening holes for the running backs. Josh Adams and the run game have really come alive.
The Eagles are playing their best football of the year.
This is what you want in a December showdown between division rivals. You have two teams ready to battle it out for the division title. This should be a good game.
The Eagles' defense is going to be tested. It struggled in the first Dallas game, allowing 410 yards and 27 points. Even worse, 14 of the points came in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, the defense couldn't come up with key stops.
The defense is playing better right now. The defensive line has done an excellent job at getting pressure on the quarterback and getting into the backfield on run plays. The defensive line did sack Prescott four times in the first game, but they weren't good enough against the run.
The back seven struggled with run defense in that game. The Eagles didn't tackle well and Ezekiel Elliott will kill you when you give him multiple chances on a play. The defense must fly to the ball and tackle as a group. Jim Schwartz talks all the time about how important it is for multiple players to get to the ball.
Malcolm Jenkins has really picked up his game the last couple of weeks. He will be crucial against Dallas, with his ability to play in the box or back in coverage. Jenkins understands run schemes and can blow up a play even if he doesn't make the tackle. He will be a critical factor on Sunday.
Jordan Hicks will be out, so the linebackers will be Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Nathan Gerry. Those guys must play well. Gerry had his first NFL interception last week and did some good things in the run game. The linebackers must make plays if they have the chance to. Grugier-Hill dropped an easy pick-six in the first meeting. You must make those plays.
This is going to be a somewhat different Eagles team. Lane Johnson missed the first meeting. The coaches had to build their game plan around blocking DeMarcus Lawrence. They couldn't count on Halapoulivaati Vaitai doing that on his own all game long. Johnson is the kind of stud offensive tackle who can handle Lawrence. Johnson will get help at times, but not all game long.
Corey Clement is healthier now. He had six touches for 8 yards in the first game. Clement has had multiple big plays over the past two games. His burst is back and he's back to being a weapon for the Eagles' offense.
Darren Sproles missed the first game. He's healthy and doing what he can to help on offense and special teams. A long punt return from him would be a huge boost for the team.
Tim Jernigan and Avonte Maddox might play. We probably won't know for sure until Sunday afternoon. Jernigan would be great for this matchup, with his ability to stuff run plays and be disruptive on the inside.
Some things will remain the same. In a way, this game will come down to Prescott vs. Wentz. Prescott played one of his best games of the year in Philly. He also didn't turn the ball over, while Wentz did have a costly interception.
Wentz will need to be at his best. Dallas just shut down Drew Brees and the incredible Saints offense. This will be a tough challenge. I'm excited to see what kind of game plan the coaches come up with and how Wentz plays. This is the game where you go all out. Any secrets or trick plays, use them here. There is no holding back.
The Eagles never had the lead in the first game. Dallas was always in control. They ran more plays, gained more yards, and won the time of possession battle. They had more big plays and no turnovers. All of that and Dallas still struggled to win.
This is absolutely a game the Eagles can win. The defense is playing with more confidence. The offensive line looks like the group that was so good a year ago. The running backs are making plays. Wentz is now getting more creative and making plays on the move.
I expect the Eagles to go down to Dallas and win. I think the Eagles will play their best game of the year and be sitting atop the division standings on Sunday night.
Tommy Lawlor, _goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards_, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at _IgglesBlitz.com_ where he is the site's editor.