The NFL season will yet again conclude with a win-or-go-home battle for the NFC East division crown. It will likely send the Dallas Cowboys home disappointed for the second consecutive season.
Last season, the Cowboys lost a similar winner-take-all clash with the Washington Redskins in a game that saw Tony Romo fire three interceptions and Alfred Morris torture Dallas on the ground for 200 rushing yards.
Romo can't be the fall guy if Dallas loses this time, as he has officially been ruled out to undergo season-ending back surgery. On paper, this has the makings of a lopsided affair.
The soaring Philadelphia Eagles have won six of their last seven games, and their stout offense should stomp the Cowboys' putrid defense.
But it's not always that simple, right? The last showdown certainly did not unfold that way, so there's got to be something pointing in Dallas' direction. Well, let's see what is there, but don't blame me if I come up empty.
Can Cowboys Survive Without Tony Romo?
The world's worst quarterback who is actually quite great at football will not be available as a convenient scapegoat this Sunday.
After helping his team live to fight another day by orchestrating a late victory over the Washington Redskins, Tony Romo will miss Week 17 (and any subsequent postseason play) with a back injury sustained in Week 16.
Romo's former teammate, the currently desperate-for-attention Terrell Owens, grasped on to the tired narrative by claiming the Cowboys have a better chance of winning without Romo under center. Here's what he said when asked on the NFL Network if the Cowboys will actually fare better with Kyle Orton leading the brigade:
I do. I think it honestly because, again, if you look at this situation, if it shakes out and if it's a shootout -- late in the game -- everybody's expecting Tony to throw (an) interception. ... Again, not to take anything away from what he's done this year. He's played spectacular, but going into situations like this, I mean, everybody expects the obvious, and that's for him to make a mistake. A huge mistake.
Before we continue, let's allow SportsCenter to debunk that theory.
Since Tony Romo took over as Cowboys QB in Week 8 of 2006, Dallas has a .583 win pct in games he starts, and a .461 win pct when he is out.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 27, 2013
Owens' comments are obviously insane, but the real question is if Dallas has any chance without its star quarterback, whom Owens once tearfully defended. Sure, there are worse backup quarterbacks than Orton, but he also wields an average 58.4 career completion percentage with an unimpressive 6.61 yards per attempt. There's a reason Orton, who hasn't played a full NFL game in two years, is not starting somewhere else.
The Eagles rank 30th against the pass, so it's possible Orton can muster up enough throws on a weak secondary to get the job done. Then again, they're stout against the run, so the Cowboys can't count on DeMarco Murray shouldering a monstrous workload.
What About Sean Lee?
Oh yeah, the Cowboys are also playing without their star defensive player. ESPN's Adam Schefter dampened Christmas in Texas by reporting that linebacker Sean Lee will not suit up on Sunday night due to a neck injury.
Cowboys LB Sean Lee's neck injury is more significant than team thought, which is why he will not play Sunday vs. Eagles.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 26, 2013
Lee has missed four of Dallas' last five bouts. The squad has allowed 27 points per game in his absence, which is right on par with its season average. But keep in mind that the Cowboys faced the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers (without Aaron Rodgers), New York Giants and Washington during that stretch. Not exactly the cream of the crop.
The 27-year-old leads the team with four interceptions and ranks second on the club with 99 tackles. They're a terrible defense with him, but an even more atrocious unit without him.
Even with Romo and Lee, the Cowboys' outlook would be bleak, considering their league-worst 418.6 yards allowed per game against the NFC's top offense, which notches 420.7 yards per contest.
Was Their Last Meeting a Fluke?
It's only fair to bring up the time these two teams actually played each other this season. The Eagles mustered 278 total yards and three points in their worst offensive output of the year.
How can Dallas duplicate that success?
Everyone is quick to point to Nick Foles getting hurt, which forced Matt Barkley to enter the game and throw three interceptions. However, Foles registering a measly 80 passing yards on 29 passing attempts gets lost in the shuffle.
LeSean McCoy, who probably doesn't even need to gain a single yard on the ground this weekend to secure the rushing title, managed a middling 55 rushing yards through 18 carries.
Dallas ranks 31st against the pass and 27th against the run, so it's hard to see Foles and McCoy getting shut down again, especially without Lee playing. Looking at the matchups on paper, it seems likely that the teams' paths collided at the worst possible time for Philly and the best for Dallas.
Now Dallas' defense is reeling while only the Denver Broncos put up more points and yards than Philadelphia.
With all that said, I like Dallas to edge out Philadelphia.
Just kidding. Foles and McCoy will do whatever they please against the Cowboys' leaky defense, and Orton will not engineer nearly enough offensive firepower to keep up. The streaking Eagles, who won't be easy to eliminate, will enter the playoffs as the NFC's No. 3 seed.
Final Score: Eagles 38, Cowboys 17