8:30 p.m. on NBC
Eagles favored by 3
The Eagles will need to come out of their bye week with guns blazing as they prepare to duel the NFC East rival Cowboys in Dallas at AT&T Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
This is a pivotal game for the Cowboys, who, at 5-4, are currently out of the playoff picture. A defeat would all but erase their already long odds of winning the division, and possibly put them as many as two games back of a wild-card spot. That would be a tough hole to climb out of.
Win or lose, the Eagles are in good shape as they come in with the best record in the NFL at 8-1. However, they don’t need to give the Cowboys hope. Plus, the attention will soon turn to playoff seeding, with the prospect of another bye, possibly even home-field advantage throughout.
There’s a lot on the line for both teams already in Week 11. But it’s Eagles-Cowboys, so would you want things any other way?
Not the same ol’ Cowboys
So what did happen to the Cowboys? This team looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2014 and 2016, and the break in between can be chalked up to an injury under center. Seeing as the quarterback is fine, why exactly is Dallas struggling to stay above .500?
The answer is simple: The offensive line’s performance has fallen off dramatically, which in retrospect, was actually predictable.
The Cowboys' playoff squads of recent years were built around the O-line. It’s no coincidence Dallas had the NFL’s leading rusher in both 2014 (DeMarco Murray) and 2016 (Ezekiel Elliott). The offense leaned on the ground attack and asked less of the quarterback — mostly don’t turn the ball over — using a ball-control style to cover up deficiencies elsewhere.
Of course, the O-line largely remained the same and intact for those two years. Not the case in 2017.
Right tackle Doug Free retired and was replaced by La’el Collins. Left guard Ronald Leary departed as a free agent, his place taken by Chaz Green, then Jonathan Cooper when he wasn’t cutting it. The unit’s core is still in place in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, but the departures also hurt depth. With Smith hurt (back/groin), the Cowboys are down to Byron Bell at left tackle.
It’s a mess, and the Cowboys are one injury away from falling into complete chaos up front. So much of success in the NFL is predicated on strong offensive line play, and Dallas has not had its finest year there.
Facing the Eagles’ front four and No. 1 run defense Sunday, the Cowboys aren’t likely to turn it around overnight.
Cry the Eagles a river
The Cowboys will be without their All-Pro left tackle Sunday night. They will be without their starting middle linebacker and the heart and soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring). They’re even going to be without their Pro Bowl kicker, Dan Bailey.
Sound familiar? It should. The Eagles have gone through more or less the exact same situation in 2017.
There’s no denying Dallas is in a precarious state due in large part to all the absences. That’s also no excuse. The Eagles lost left tackle Jason Peters, and so far they’ve kept on ticking. They lost middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, and there’s been little to no drop-off whatsoever. They lost kicker Caleb Sturgis, then went out and found Jake Elliott.
And as for the suspension to Cowboys running back and reigning rushing champion Elliott, his behavior was bound to catch up with him eventually. Another parallel, regardless, as the Eagles are without running back and return specialist Darren Sproles, too.
If Dallas can’t withstand the losses, the team probably wasn’t good enough in the first place. After all, you don’t hear the Eagles complaining.
On Carson Wentz vs. Dak Prescott
There’s been a great deal of debate over the past two seasons about whether Wentz or Prescott is better, and in all likelihood, it’s a discussion we will continue to have for years to come. It’s also a pointless conversation because one number and one number alone will eventually become the decisive factor... wins.
Specifically, Super Bowl wins, assuming either player ever has the privilege. Look no further than their first two seasons in the league for evidence.
Last season, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 and went to the playoffs, the team was riding high, and Prescott received a lot of the credit and attention for that. Meanwhile, the Eagles slogged through a 7-9 campaign, and Wentz faced many doubts leading up to this year.
Now it’s 2017, the Eagles are 8-1 thanks in part to an infusion of talent, and Wentz is widely considered the frontrunner to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. On the flipside, Dallas is struggling for various reasons, so this time Prescott looks like a work in progress.
See how this works?
To look at the quarterback comparison from a historical context, take Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Manning was almost always the more prolific of the future Hall of Fame signal callers, but Brady often bested him head to head on the field and is running away with the competition in terms the Super Bowl rings — five, and counting, to two.
That’s what it’s going to boil down to for Wentz and Prescott — head-to-head wins, NFC East supremacy, Super Bowls. Only a year-and-a-half into their careers, there’s little use trying to make a case either way, as their stories are yet to be written.