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NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles remain at the top ... for the most part

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NFL power rankings roundup: Eagles remain at the top ... for the most part

The Eagles continued their homestand at Lincoln Financial Field last Sunday in a matchup against the winless San Francisco 49ers.

The Birds used a four-sack performance from the defense in a downpour to defeat the Niners, 33-10.

The victory over the 49ers puts the Eagles at 7-1. They still hold the best record in the NFL and a 2.5-game lead in the NFC East over the Cowboys, who sit at 4-3.

Now the Eagles shift their attention to the Denver Broncos, who are coming off of an embarrassing 29-19 loss to the Chiefs on Monday night.

Before the Birds host a reeling Broncos team on Sunday afternoon, here's a roundup of where the Eagles landed in this week's national power rankings:

ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio: Stayed at No. 1
Florio wrote, “If the Dolphins were trying to send a message to Jay Ajayi by trading him to the best team in football, he’s probably not upset about receiving it.”

As the trade deadline ticked down on Tuesday, the Eagles were one of a couple of teams who made some big moves. The Eagles traded a fourth-round pick to the Dolphins for running back Ajayi (see story). Although he has struggled this season behind a horrid offensive line, Ajayi is a solid tailback to add to the Birds' backfield. A big concern through this process has been Ajayi’s attitude and his knees. Only time will tell if he can be a valuable asset in Philadelphia.

NFL.com's Elliot Harrison: Stayed at No. 1
Harrison wrote, “The Eagles are playing solid ball on offense, defense and even made some hay on special teams Sunday. Perhaps most importantly, Philadelphia did what good teams are supposed to do against weak opponents, especially at home: win decisively.”

The Eagles started slowly against the 49ers on Sunday but found their footing in the rain and mud to win by 23 points at the Linc. The Birds sacked 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard four times and he spent a good amount of time on the ground. The Eagles possess the best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing just 70.4 yards per game. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, leading to a healthy amount of turnovers.

USA TODAY: Stayed at No. 1
USA TODAY wrote, “Lost amid Carson Wentz hoopla is the defense coming off its best performance of the season and run game that features four players with 130-plus yards … and, now, Jay Ajayi?”

This season, Ajayi has rushed for 465 yards on 138 carries, a 3.4-yard average. Miami’s offensive line has not been good and the team has been playing from behind in most games. Ajayi was a bell cow back for the Dolphins, averaging 19.7 carries per game and a total of 152 touches thus far. Ajayi doesn’t need to be the main guy for the Eagles. He just needs to make the most of his opportunities. I think 12 to 15 touches a game is realistic for Ajayi. He is also good in pass protection.

Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab: Stayed at No. 1
Schwab wrote, “With how well Carson Wentz has played, it’s surprising Alshon Jeffery has been so quiet. If Jeffery plays like the true difference maker he has been in the past, the Eagles get a lot better. And they’re already pretty good.”

Jeffery has been relatively quiet this season. Catching 28 balls for 416 yards isn’t the end of the world but it wasn’t what Eagles fans expected after he signed in the offseason. Wentz loves to spread it around and he likes to target Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor in the red zone. Better days are ahead for Jeffery but don’t expect huge games moving forward.

CBS Sports' Pete Prisco: Stayed at No. 1
Prisco wrote, “They have a quarterback and pass rushers. That's usually a good combination. They are rolling.”

Wentz probably had his worst game of the season against the 49ers, completing only 56 percent of his passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The conditions were horrible so he was able to get away with it but he was missing receivers long quite a bit. He should be able to rebound next week.

The Washington Post's Mark Maske: Stayed at No. 2
Maske wrote, “Prevailing at home against the winless Niners was not exactly a major accomplishment. But beating the teams you should beat is part of the equation for being good in the NFL. The Eagles are the NFC’s Super Bowl front-runner.”

Maske still feels the Eagles ride second fiddle to the Patriots and I still don’t get it. The Patriots struggled to move the ball against the Chargers and Los Angeles had a chance to tie on the last play. I don’t see how you can continue to put the Patriots above the Eagles outside of the fact that they have won multiple Super Bowls. At this point, there is no reason to say the Eagles aren’t the best team in the NFL right now.

ESPN: Up one spot to No. 1
ESPN wrote, “The Eagles own the NFL's best record right now, but will that last once the schedule toughens up? The Eagles have played the third-easiest schedule and have big tests against the Broncos, Cowboys, Seahawks and Rams coming up.”

Unlike Maske, ESPN finally came to its senses. The Eagles do have a tough upcoming schedule as they play Denver, Dallas, Seattle and the Rams. The Broncos shouldn’t scare the Birds at all. They have lost their last three and can’t score. They also don’t have a competent starting quarterback right now.

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