By the time I finish writing this post, kickoff between the Eagles and Cowboys with first place in the division on the line will be less than nine hours away.
We’re getting closer, but that’s still a ton of time for more hype to be generated about the Thanksgiving matchup. This game has been circled on the slate for many since the schedule was released in late April, but the circumstances are a bit different than most expected, certainly a contrast to what I anticipated.
Yes, the Eagles head to Dallas with the exact same record as I thought they would at 8-3, but the Cowboys are also a surprising 8-3 when many picked them to win only five or six games. I like to think my predictions have been mostly decent, but Dallas right now, pending a ridiculous collapse that I don’t think even they are capable of, appears to be the big miss right now.
If you told me in August that the Eagles would head into this game 8-3, I would have told you that they would have the NFC East virtually clinched already, but they don’t, and despite what anyone tells you to create excitement, neither team will be that close to winning it as people loosen their belts tonight and settle in for Seahawks-49ers.
Today’s contest is no doubt important, and whichever team does win will have a bit of an easier path to the division crown, but unlike the Week 17 virtual playoff games in 2008 and 2013, this isn’t a do or die type of deal.
I do think though, that the Eagles head into today with a bit of a long-term advantage over Dallas. Let’s examine why:
These are the current NFC East standings:
Take a look at that seventh column from the left there — The division record one.
You will see that the Eagles are undefeated in the division at 2-0 while Dallas sits at 2-1 after dropping a home game to Washington exactly one month ago to the day. That is so significant because if the teams split their two games and finish with the exact same record, it will be the first tiebreaker used to decide the division winner.
Below are both teams’ remaining schedules, with the Eagles first and the Cowboys below them.
Discounting the two games against each other in a three week span, the Eagles common opponents have a combined record of 13-20 while the Cowboys face teams with a cumulative record of 15-18.
Since the Eagles have not yet lost within the division, they could split their two games with Dallas, win all of the others, and take the division at 12-4. The same does not hold true for Dallas. Going 4-1 down the stretch would certainly put them in the playoffs, but if the Eagles matched them and took a game from them, they get the NFC East crown, a home playoff game, and quite possibly a first round bye.
Such a scenario would have the Eagles with a 5-1 record in the division while Dallas would only be 4-2.
How realistic is it to expect the Eagles to win all three games against the Seahawks, Redskins, and Giants?
That is up to your interpretation. They have already defeated the latter two at home, and Seattle looks like a much different team away from CenturyLink Field, currently holding a 2-3 road record.
The Eagles have not been road juggernauts this season though, also holding a 2-3 record away from Lincoln Financial Field. The Giants and Redskins are certainly not the 49ers, Cardinals, or Packers, but playing back-to-back NFC East road games late in the season is never a slam dunk, even against squads who have packed it in.
In stark contrast to the Eagles, the Cowboys are undefeated on the road and currently hold a 3-3 home record. Three of their last four games after today will be played elsewhere, but that might not be so bad if you think their strong road play holds up.
We have examined a lot of hypothetical scenarios, but quite honestly, the Eagles path to the division is in theory quite simple:
Win at least one game against Dallas and don’t lose any others.
How you feel about things over the next month ultimately depends on how you feel about different elements of the Eagles right now. Do you trust Chip Kelly down the stretch? I sure do and personally think you should, especially with extra time to prepare for the Seahawks. Do you trust Mark Sanchez to beat Dallas at least once if Nicky Foles isn’t back in two and a half weeks? That answer might be a bit more dicey for some.
I am not intentionally trying to downplay today’s matchup. It should be fun. It may be stressful, and like a lot of you, I will probably be doing battle with a food coma right before kickoff from eating an early dinner.
It may seem like I am cautioning you against a letdown throughout this post, but I actually think the Eagles are going to win 30-27. Provided Mark Sanchez can exorcise some demons of Thanksgiving past and not turn the ball over more than once or twice, the birds should be able to move the ball against a better than expected but still somewhat vulnerable Dallas defense and contain DeMarco Murray.
Just keep things in perspective. If we’re celebrating a huge road victory tonight, the Eagles will be in a prime position to repeat as NFC East champions, and I’ll be pumped as all hell, but don’t panic and go jumping off the Walt Whitman in a tryptophan induced rage should things not go right.
The national narrative might be that the winner today gets the division, but either way, there is a lot more work to be done.