The NFC East will come down to the final game of the regular season with the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. The winner of the game will win the NFC East and host a playoff game next week. The loser will miss the playoffs entirely.
Dallas has the advantage of playing at home, but the advantage may be mitigated by a couple of factors. Tony Romo was forced to have back surgery and will not play. He was initially reported as out due to a herniated disk in his back. The Cowboys held out hope he could play, but he was forced to have surgery. Philadelphia has also been very good on the road this season, compiling a 5-2 record.
The Cowboys had the upper hand in the first meeting of the year, shutting down Philadelphia's offense and winning, 17-3.
Meet the Cowboys
With Romo unable to play, Kyle Orton will get the start. As a result, the Cowboys may rely on DeMarco Murray. The running back is having an excellent season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He's been even more effective recently, running for 376 yards over the last three games while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Defensively, Dallas is having major issues. The Cowboys are 24th in the NFL in points per play allowed. They have been even worse lately, allowing .52 points per play during the last three weeks, the fourth-worst in the NFL during that span. Dallas is 29th in yards per play allowed -- including 30th in yards per rushing attempt -- and will go against the most efficient offense in the NFL.
Meet the Eagles
While the attention is on Romo, the Eagles' offense has a chance to make it a non-story. Philadelphia's offense leads the league in yards per play and is going up against one of the worst defenses in the league. The Eagles were without Michael Vick in the first meeting against Dallas and Nick Foles got injured early on. This time around, they are rolling on all cylinders and are coming off a dominant performance against the Bears. Philadelphia averaged 8.2 yards per play last week. It's hard to imagine Philadelphia losing with a similar effort this week.
The Eagles rank in the bottom-third of the league in a lot of defensive categories. They are, however, coming off arguably their best performance of the season. Shutting down Murray could be a key for the Eagles on Sunday and they may be poised to do just that. The Eagles are fourth in the NFL, allowing just 3.8 rushing yards per attempt. They've allowed just 2.6 rushing yards per attempt in the last three games, the best in the NFL.
Local Takes: Dallas
If anything at least Dallas is interesting. Tom Ryle of Blogging the Boys called the Cowboys the biggest soap opera in the NFL:
And now, the team Jerry Jones owns is the center of the biggest soap opera in the NFL, as the eyes of the league are riveted on the Dallas Cowboys and the saga of who will play quarterback in the winner-takes-the-NFC-East game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Appropriately enough, the game is the prime time season finale for the league.
Dallas was sharing the spotlight with the Green Bay Packers, but Aaron Rodgers has finally been cleared to play and will take the field against the Chicago Bears. Now, the question of whether Tony Romo will be able to return from the back problems that were clearly in evidence in the final quarter of the win over the Washington Redskins is the biggest one in sports, at least in the US.
Local Takes: Philadelphia
Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation previewed the Cowboys with the help of Chip Kelly:
It's hard not to believe Kelly. The Vikings game comparison is obvious but it doesn't seem exactly similar. Despite the Dallas injury issues, this match-up isn't a trap game. The Eagles are not looking past this one. It's the biggest game of their season and the biggest game to-date of Kelly's young NFL coaching career.
Sunday's contest is for all the NFC East marbles, and Kelly is playing for keeps.
Follow the Fun
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The Great Dallas Soap Opera - And We're Talking TR Here, Not JR http://t.co/YV3E6vzTth— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) December 27, 2013
Chip Kelly's Plan http://t.co/x5B3xGwkfI— BleedingGreenNation (@BleedingGreen) December 27, 2013
@clarencehilljr -- Cowboys writer
Jerry Jones says the possiblity of Orton playing has justified his financial committment to the backup http://t.co/2cU4zcmPYd— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) December 26, 2013
@RoobCSN -- Eagles writer
"We don't shy away from it. We invite it." Why the Eagles have had great success against the NFL's best receivers: http://t.co/F9DyfphGFh— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) December 25, 2013
The Eagles are a slight favorite among SB Nation's experts with three of the five picking Philadelphia.
Philadelphia opened as a 2-point road favorite, according to OddsShark.com. The total opened at 52.5 points.
The winner will be at home hosting a playoff game. The loser will be at home watching the playoffs.