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Looking Ahead, Just Not Too Far Into Future

Two of the weeks to most look forward to in an Eagles season are the ones when Dallas is the opponent, the team we love to hate. I can't write with conviction and tell you that I have a burning fire for Sunday's game, not yet anyway, because the big picture here is much more complicated, and much simpler at the same time.

It is impossible to consider this game without understanding the big picture, and that is to get the Eagles as right as possible for the first round of the NFC playoffs. The postseason is a new beginning, as they say, and as disappointing and costly as the Tuesday night loss to Minnesota was, the fact is that the Eagles are in the dance and that anything can happen. When this team plays its best football, it can be any team, anywhere. And every other team in the playoffs can say the same thing, I'm sure.

First things first, though. The Eagles return to practice on Thursday with their sights set on Dallas. I wonder how vigorously the focus is on the Cowboys, to be honest. Is there is a sense of resting some starters, taking a look at some of the kids and really setting the goal of making the team as whole as possible for the following weekend?

On one hand, that is clearly the way to go. Give quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, cornerback Asante Samuel, defensive end Trent Cole and left tackle Jason Peters the day off on Sunday. Let Kevin Kolb play. Give Jerome Harrison a steady diet of carries. Play more of Riley Cooper and even Chad Hall at wide receiver. Try to find out a little bit more about cornerback Trevard Lindley and offensive lineman Austin Howard.

The truth is, though, that the Eagles have played most of their young players this season. Maybe they give linebacker Keenan Clayton some extended reps on Sunday, for example, because he is coming off a hamstring injury and the Eagles would like to incorporate him into the defense in some capacity -- linebacker? hybrid safety? -- in the playoffs. He is a talent the Eagles need to learn as much about as they can. Tight end Clay Harbor has seen more and more action and would benefit from extended reps on Sunday, but the Eagles have only two tight ends on the roster and both Harbor and Brent Celek are going to play, anyway.

Andy Reid isn't going to coach with a half-hearted effort. He knows there is something to gain from playing well against Dallas, but he also has the sense of knowing that, as disappointing as it is to not have a bye week lined up, the Eagles can use this weekend to get some tired players some key down time between now and Sunday.

Look, the idea of the bye week was the dream for everyone, but the reality is that even if the Eagles hadn't stumbled against Minnesota, they could have played hard with all of their starters in these games against the Vikings and Cowboys and still come out with a game on wild-card weekend. At least this way the Eagles have a punch in the mouth from which to recover, a lousy feeling in the pits of their stomachs, and if they play it a certain way, they will go into the playoffs as fresh as a first-round team can be. And they will be at home.

I think Reid will give some of his veterans as much rest as possible. Vick is nursing a quad injury and is receiving treatment. Kolb is itching to play, so why not get him sharp and give him a game to go out and win? McCoy could certainly use a break, as could the rest of the players mentioned above.

As depressing as Tuesday's loss was, the Eagles have to bounce back. Dallas comes in with nothing to lose, so why not go out and play hard and learn more about the depth of this football team? And then, after that game is over, prepare full bore for the playoffs and a new world. The Eagles have been down this road in past seasons. Win a home game, go to Chicago and meet a Bears team that everyone wanted to see again, and let's go.

The rest of the season holds great possibilities, but first things first. The Eagles have a game on Sunday, and they have a lot to gain from approaching Dallas the right way.

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