The Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) will be in the great state of Texas in Week 17 for an NFC East showdown with the Dallas Cowboys (8-7), and nothing less than the divisional crown—and the playoff berth it accompanies—is at stake.
The winner will advance into the postseason to host a game in the Wild Card Round, while the players and coaches from the losing team will head to their homes to watch the tournament from their couches.
Unfortunately, a big injury will likely play a big role in the outcome.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo injured his back in Week 16's big win over Washington. He reportedly suffered a herniated disk and was given an epidural injection in his back.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported on Thursday, Dec. 26, that Romo's back had only "slightly improved":
Tony Romo's back is only slightly improved since epidural injection and treatment. Didn't practice, attend team meeting or game-plan session— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 26, 2013
Romo hadn't practiced with the team as of Dec. 26, and it appears the Cowboys will be playing without him. Veteran Kyle Orton is Romo's backup, and the team recently signed Jon Kitna to back up Orton. Kitna has been teaching algebra at his local high school since retiring at the end of the 2010 season.
Dallas has backed into this final game, losing two of its last three games.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia has become one of the most dangerous teams in the league during the second half, posting a record of 6-1 since Week 9. One more win will propel Chip Kelly's Eagles into the playoffs, which is remarkable when considering the team went 3-5 to open the year.
Here's a peek at when and where you can catch the upcoming contest, along with betting information, injury reports and a look at the biggest key to victory.
When: Sunday, Dec. 29, at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: 52.5 points
- Spread: Dallas (+7)
Can DeMarco Murray Carry the Cowboys into the Postseason?
Assuming Romo can't play, the Cowboys will need to rely heavily on running back Demarco Murray in this upcoming contest.
Murray eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in Week 16 when he rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown in Washington. He became the first Cowboys back to hit that number since Julius Jones did it back in 2006, as pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info:
Congrats to Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray, first Dallas player over 1,000 yards rushing since Julius Jones in 2006.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 22, 2013
Orton is a capable quarterback, but he doesn't possess the arm strength and athleticism Romo brings. Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com commented on the obvious downgrade:
You don't need me to tell you that going from Romo to Orton represents an enormous downgrade for the Cowboys. Orton's one of the better backup quarterbacks in football, but he's replacing one of the NFL's best starters. Even if you were down on Romo for his poor play in key moments like the one he was about to face in Week 17, the last time Orton was getting reps was in 2011, when he was benched (rightly) for Tim Tebow.
The team's passing game will feature short and intermediate passes with him in the lineup, which will allow Philadelphia to feel more comfortable about crowding the line of scrimmage. It's crazy to think Orton is going to come in and pass for 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Instead, Murray must come up huge for the Cowboys in this game. If he can churn out positive yards on a regular basis—provided Bill Callahan and Jason Garrett give him enough chances—then Dallas has a shot at winning.
If he can't get going, or if the team forgets he's in the lineup and goes pass-crazy with Orton, then Dallas will struggle to move the chains—which means more chances for the Eagles on offense.
Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis is fired up about shutting Dallas down, no matter who starts behind center for the Cowboys, as noted by the Associated Press via the New York Times:
We’ve got a great challenge, no matter who the quarterback is. I don’t think the offense changes too much with one or the other. I think we’re prepared for both of them, and we’re prepared to give the Dallas Cowboys the absolute best, no matter who is the quarterback.
Philly just shut Chicago's offense down in Week 16 after allowing 48 points to Minnesota in Week 15. Combined with the team's potent offense, led by LeSean McCoy and Nick Foles, the Eagles have a winning recipe brewing.
All it will take is proper execution of the game plan against Dallas to finish the season as NFC East champs with a record of 10-6.
Who you got?
McCoy should rush for about 300 yards and five touchdowns (slightly kidding) against Dallas' porous run defense, which comes into the game ranked No. 27, allowing 127.9 yards per game.
The Eagles are going to put a big number on the scoreboard. Even with Romo, Dallas was going to struggle to win this game. If he's unable to play, then it's likely the Eagles will romp.
Eagles win, 38-27.
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