Delivering heartbreak to the Cowboys Saturday night and extending their playoff winless streak to a 14th season would be oh-so-sweet for every single Eagles fan.
Clearly, being faced with a road game against a team that has handled them twice is not an advantage for the Eagles but as my preseason pick to win the Super Bowl, I feel obligated to defend said prediction.
1. Andy Reid & Donovan McNabb have never lost a first round playoff game – While Eagles fans enjoy a highly-publicized on-again, off-again, love-hate relationship with both Reid and Donovan, they have simply been winners. Detractors will point to the conspicuous lack of a Lombardi trophy but five NFC Conference Championship games this decade is second to none and a perfect 7-0 in their first playoff games of the season bodes well for the Eagles.
That level of experience is unmatched on the Cowboys sideline whose last playoff game victory occurred when Tony Romo was a 16-year old high school junior. (Incidentally, Romo never won a title in HS, either, just figured I’d mention that).
2. Wade Phillips is winless in the playoffs during his career – These historical arguments don’t always translate due to the rash of changes to the rosters over time but it does paint a specific picture of this coach’s success, or lack thereof. In seven full seasons as a head coach prior to this one, he made four playoff appearances. Here are the results in his losses with the Broncos, Bills, and Cowboys:
· 1993 - Raiders 42, Broncos 24
· 1998 – Dolphins 24, Bills 17
· 1999 – Titans 22, Bills 16 (Music City Miracle game)
· 2007 – Giants 21, Cowboys 17
So, as a head coach, he has made exactly one playoff appearance in the last 10 seasons and in that game against the Giants, his No. 1 seed Cowboys lost a home game. Prior to that, the single biggest special teams breakdown in NFL playoff history was by his 1999 Bills team in a gut-wrenching loss to Tennessee. Special teams efficiency is almost directly linked to coaching in football so it warrants mentioning that he headed up the team who committed that grievous error.
3. DeSean Jackson’s explosive play – For years Eagles fans had begged for a playmaker in the passing game. Brian Westbrook was and is revered but he was never the vertical threat that many teams possess in current-day passing attacks. Enter DeSean Jackson.
The second-year man out of Cal is an all-around threat on the field both in the passing game and on special teams. The Eagles led the NFL in punt return yardage thanks to the Pro Bowl returner and his 18.5-yard average per reception was second in the league. His eight touchdowns of over 50 yards tied an NFL record and gave Donovan McNabb a weapon he never had in his career until now. While Dallas will key on Jackson, his pure athletic ability is unmatched by anyone in the Cowboys secondary and his return ability is the single biggest X factor of the game.
The Eagles are healthy with Westbrook and Jeremy Maclin back near 100 percent and had the luxury of getting familiar with the Cowboys new stadium last week. But, time to throw out the ridiculous idioms of “it’s hard to beat a team three times” and focus on what the matchups will be about.
It will ultimately come down to the Eagles putting pressure on Romo and coming up with stops at the right time because their explosive offense will be on display in Jerry Jones’ new palace. Experience can be gained in losses but learning how to win and getting it done in the playoffs is invaluable and the Eagles have that all over the Cowboys.
Prediction: A big special teams play—maybe a DeSean Jackson return, maybe a Shaun Suisham miss—will key the victory for Philly in Dallas.
Eagles 23, Cowboys 21