Hopefully, you finished your season by securing a fantasy championship, which is the ultimate reward for many months of commitment that you devoted toward that goal. Or, perhaps you are on the verge of accomplishing that this week. If so, good luck, and don’t forget to check out our many resources on this site to help those who are still playing in Week 17. But regardless of your circumstances, this week’s regular season finale between the Cowboys and the Eagles contains enormous ramifications. The team that prevails in this matchup will win the NFC East, while the other squad will experience an abrupt conclusion to their season. Even though it is easy to presume that Philadelphia will triumph over the Tony Romo-less Cowboys, there are factors that should cause hesitation before you summarily dismiss Dallas in this matchup.
Dallas Controlled Their First Encounter
The Eagles will head to Dallas with a 9-6 record, which gives them a one game lead over their NFC East division rival. Not only would a victory enable them to capture a playoff spot, but it would avenge the 17-3 loss that they incurred in Week 7. During that contest, the Cowboys employed schemes that confused and neutralized the Eagle attack, with Sean Lee playing an integral role in that process. Dallas stymied Foles, who only completed 11 of his 29 passes for 80 yards, in what was easily his worst performance of the year. He failed to connect with open receivers on several occasions, before a hit forced him from the contest. Matt Barkley replaced him, and delivered a forgettable performance that included three INTs and just 129 yards. LeSean McCoy was limited to 55 yards on 18 attempts (3.1 YPC), and DeSean Jackson could only amass 21 yards on three receptions. Meanwhile, Dallas manufactured a sufficient degree of offense, even though DeMarco Murray was sidelined due to a knee injury. Joseph Randle ran for 65 yards, and Phillip Tanner discovered the end zone. Romo also located Dez Bryant eight times for 110 yards, while connecting with Terrance Williams for 71 yards and a TD.
Philly Flying High
The Eagles also lost to the Giants in their next contest, but proceeded to win six of the next seven, including last week’s 54-11 battering of the Bears. Foles has led their resurgence, generating at least 400 yards in two games, accumulating over 295 yards four times, and producing at least three TD passes in five different contests. His outstanding QBR of 118.8 is the NFL’s highest. Even though he started just nine contests, he is eighth among all QBs with 25 TDs, while tossing only two INTs. He is now in position to lead Philadelphia to its first division crown since 2010, although he would certainly have some help in achieving that. LeSean McCoy is the league’s leading rusher with 1,476 yards, and is attempting to become the first Eagle to win a rushing title in 63 years. As a result of their success on the ground and through the air, the Eagles now rank second in total offense, while generating an impressive 421 YPG. They are scoring 27.9 PPG, which is the NFL’s second highest average. Plus, they lead the NFL in rushing, and their 162 YPG average is 19 YPG more than any other team. If that is not enough, their 5.2 YPC easily paces the league.
Dallas Could Stay Grounded
Dallas is ranked just 22nd in total offense (336 YPG), yet is third in scoring, right behind Philly (27.8). But that was with Romo under center, and his forthcoming absence has been widely critiqued. It will thrust Kyle Orton into the starting role. And not only is the gap in talent between these two signal callers very significant, but it decreases the Cowboys’ chances of winning. Yet, it does not mean that they cannot prevail. Murray remains an extremely potent weapon, who delivered his first 1,000-yard season despite missing two contests. He also has matched McCoy’s nine TDs on the ground, and his eight rushes of 20+ yards. Of course despite these facts, the Cowboys are just 24th in rushing (96.5 YPG), although their 4.6 YPC average ties them for fifth. That is a result of Dallas generating the second fewest number of rushing attempts among all teams (318), and leads a reasonable mind to wonder what might have been if Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan had utilized their dangerous ground game with greater frequency. While employing Murray extensively is a sound strategy on Sunday Night, it should be noted that the Eagles are 12th versus the run (107.5 YPG), and are permitting the NFL’s third lowest YPC average to opposing rushers (3.8). Which would behoove Dallas to also utilize creativity in how they construct routes for Dez Bryant, whose very presence will cause a considerable matchup issue.
While general consensus is that the Eagles will avenge their October loss to Dallas, it is imperative that their offense perform far more effectively than it did during that previous encounter. It would appear that they can succeed in doing so, since Dallas currently ranks dead last in total defense (419 YPG), and Sean Lee’s neck injury will prohibit him from wreaking havoc upon Foles and the Philly attack once again. The Cowboys are now 27th versus the run, and 31st against the pass, which should compel Chip Kellys second highest total of TDs thorough the air (31). The Eagles will have a significant advantage at QB since Romo will be absent. Plus, the play calling in Dallas has compelled head scratching at times during the season, and the Cowboys will have little margin for inexplicable choices this week.
The belief from here, is that the Eagles will win this matchup, but that it will be closer than many observers predict. Either way, this regular season finale essentially constitutes a playoff game. Which should result in a sizable degree of entertainment for anyone who watches this critical showdown.