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NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles can taste top spot

NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles can taste top spot

After beating up on the Cardinals, 34-7, in Week 5, the Eagles traveled to North Carolina for a Thursday night matchup against the Panthers. The Birds would use another composed and meticulous performance from Carson Wentz to sneak past the Panthers, 28-23.

Wentz finished with 222 passing yards and three touchdowns — backing up his best performance of the season so far in Week 5 against the Cardinals.

A victory over the Panthers puts the Birds at 5-1. They now hold the best record in the NFC and a 1.5-game lead in the NFC East over the Redskins, who sit at 3-2.

Now the Eagles shift their attention to Washington, which is coming off of a 26-24 victory over the 49ers.

Before the Birds host Washington on Monday night, here's a roundup of where the Eagles landed in this week's national power rankings:

ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio: Up three spots to No. 2
Florio wrote, “Carson Wentz needs to avoid contact, or the Eagles won’t be able to avoid having to play multiple games without him.”

Wentz has been hit a total of 41 times this season on dropbacks, the eighth most in the NFL. And that doesn’t include the number of times he has been hit when running. Wentz has to err on the side of caution when it comes to getting hit because the Eagles would take a huge hit in performance, morale and confidence if he were to be out for a significant amount of time.

NFL.com's Elliot Harrison: Stayed at No. 2
Harrison wrote, “Two things I like — LeGarrette Blount getting 14 carries. Keep working him. Also, Nelson Agholor contributing big plays including the touchdown reception to end a second-half drive.”

Agholor received a lot of criticism the past two seasons because of his inability to catch the football and deservedly so. He has had a solid start to the season thus far. In total, he has caught 20 balls on 30 targets for 321 yards and four touchdowns. The four touchdowns through six games this season are more than his total in his previous 28 games (three). Agholor has become a large part of the passing offense along with tight end Zach Ertz. Don’t expect it to change.

USA TODAY: Up three spots to No. 2
USA TODAY wrote, “Fletcher Cox leads front four that anchors league's best run defense and consistently jeopardizes quarterbacks without much blitz help."

Cox has been invaluable for the Birds this season and as a result, the run defense is in the top five. In the four games he has played this season, he has six total tackles and 2½ sacks. The Eagles haven’t been rushing more than four on most occasions and have been able to get to the quarterback with ease. Moving forward, Cox’s value is huge to disrupting opposing offenses because of his size and speed in the middle of the line.

Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab: Up two spots to No. 2
Schwab wrote, “A good argument can be made for them being No. 1. However, they played the No. 1 team and lost. It was a competitive game in Kansas City, but it’s still part of the resumes.”

Each rankings outlet used in this piece outside of The Washington Post is reluctant to put the Birds at the top spot. While losing to the Chiefs in a close one at Arrowhead could be the tiebreaker for most, I think it is worth considering the Eagles at No. 1. The Chiefs losing at home to a lost Steelers team is something to be taken note of for later.

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: Up one spot at No. 2
Prisco wrote, “They are on a roll and showed at Carolina that they are one of the best teams right now. The defensive front is nasty.”

Last week, I wrote the game against Carolina was the Eagles’ biggest test thus far and they passed with flying colors. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated because of a late Carolina touchdown. Cam Newton didn’t have any time to throw and his three interceptions came as a result of the defensive front for the Birds stepping up once again.

The Washington Post's Mark Maske: Up two spots to No. 1
Maske wrote, “They have earned the top spot after an impressive triumph Thursday night at Carolina. Second-year QB Carson Wentz is getting better all the time while utilizing the help he has around him on a bolstered offense.”

Maske had the guts to put the Birds at the top and they have earned it. The fact of the matter is rankers can’t come to terms with the Eagles at the top because of what happened last year after a 3-1 start. Waiting in the wings on Monday night is Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins, who are looking for revenge after an embarrassing performance against the Eagles in Week 1.

ESPN: Up two spots to No. 2
ESPN wrote, “The 5-1 start to the Eagles' season is bolstered by the fact they've won three on the road. Now they get to play their next three at home, where they're 2-0 this season and 8-2 over the past two years.”

Lincoln Financial Field has been good to the Eagles over the last two seasons and fans should expect the Linc to be filled to capacity on Monday night. The buzz surrounding the team continues to grow exponentially. Now all the Birds have to do is keep the momentum going.

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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USA Today Images

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles