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The VRR: Pundits are Liking Either the Cowboys or Eagles to Win the NFC

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The Vikings, Saints, Packers, and Cardinals would all offer any NFL team a tough game. While the Vikings and the Saints have cooled off recently, the Packers and Cardinals have been rather hot.

When members of the media dissect the NFC playoff picture, many have focused their attentions on the two NFC East playoff teams: the Cowboys and the Eagles. Why not? Both teams are on winning streaks, and both are simply playing good football.

Pete Prisco is picking Dallas to win the NFC, citing Tony Romo's "sensational" play, a resurgent running game, and solid defense.

If they play with the lead, it's really good. That's when DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer can get after the quarterback without having real run concerns. That's what Ware did at New Orleans. When he can pin his ears back and go, Dallas is a better defense. Spencer is really emerging on the other side. That helps cover up some issues in the secondary. I think the Cowboys beat the Eagles this week and that will probably give them one home playoff game. They've already shown they can win a big game on the road when they beat the Saints. The Cowboys are getting it going at the right time.

More VRR after the jump.

Clark Judge picks the Eagles to win this week.

I'll take the Eagles for two reasons: 1) They're peaking at the right time, and 2) they know how to win playoff games. Dallas does not. In fact, the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. The Eagles, meanwhile, have been to five conference championship games the past eight years and have the playmakers this season they haven't since ... well, since Terrell Owens was on the roster.

Bucky Brooks also looks at this weekend's winner as the favorite to win the NFC. Part of the reason he likes the Cowboys is the improved play of the secondary.

Although the pressure from the front seven has clearly led to more turnover opportunities for the back end, the stellar play of Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman is noteworthy. The duo has not allowed the ball to fly over their heads in recent weeks, and the reduction of big plays has empowered coach Wade Phillips to be more aggressive with his pressure package.

As a result, the Cowboys are using more five- and six-man blitzes, and crushing quarterbacks in the pocket with their attack-style defense. With a defense that is starting to show the swagger and confidence of a champion, the Cowboys are perfectly suited to end the "one-and-done" playoff hex that has plagued the franchise since 1996.

"Prime Time's" prediction:

Basically, Deion said, look for the winner of Sunday's division title-decisive NFC East showdown between Dallas and Philadelphia to be one the two last teams standing in February.

"One of those two teams will go to the Super Bowl," Sanders said flatly.

With the Eagles losing C Jamaal Jackson for the year, RG Nick Cole will replace him.

In 15 starts, Cole has had three false start penalties, no holding penalties and has allowed only one sack. But two of his false start penalties came against the Broncos, and he also had a bad snap that resulted in a fumble.

"This week of practicing will help," Andy Reid told reporters Monday in Philadelphia. "It’ll smooth those types of things out. We should be fine."

Jay Ratliff has had some spectacular games this season, including the one in Philly.

Ratliff, [has] 71 tackles, six sacks and 31 quarterback pressures. Ratliff had eight tackles, two sacks and two quarterback pressures in the Cowboys' victory over Philadelphia earlier this year.

Is McNabb worried? Naah.

"I'm not worried at all," Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said on a conference call with us today. "That's nothing to obviously his ability. He's a great player. He's made great plays. He has six sacks so far this season, and a guy who obviously is a Pro Bowler. But you know the thing about it is, you have to have confidence in the guys up front. Nick Cole is stepping into a center role, but he was our backup center as well as our starting guard anyway. He knows the calls. He knows what we have to do. I feel confident in our guys to be able to be on the same page."

Ken Hamlin likes the way the defense has been able to close out games.

"We're putting it together," Hamlin said. "We're playing a full four quarters right now. But looking at both films from the last two games, there's still things we can do to get better, so that's a positive thing. But we've got to continue to move forward."

In recent weeks, Tashard Choice and Keith Brooking have rallied the team with pregame speeches. "Moose" Johnston also offered some words to help the players keep the season in perspective.

The Cowboys have also drawn inspiration from a message imparted to them recently by Daryl Johnston, who played fullback for Dallas when it captured three Super Bowls during the 1990s. Brooking said Johnston told today's players that the teams led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin used the motto "seven days to humility" to keep from becoming overconfident.

"We've had some success through the course of the season, and I think we've handled it in a positive way," Brooking said. "So I think right now we're primed, and we're ready to make this run. Just to be frank, our playoffs start now."

Andy Reid suggested to DMN's David Moore that Romo is playing much better now that he's not as "distracted".

"It's obvious he's a leader of the offense,'' Reid said of Romo. "Not that he wasn't before, but there were a couple of distractions there and he doesn't have any of that. He's playing great football.''

A couple of distractions, like the initials T. and O? Were those the distractions Reid was talking about?

"I think it was that hole in the dome,'' Reid said, referring to the fact the Cowboys no longer play in Texas Stadium. Well played, sir.

But answer this: did McNabb grow as a leader after certain distractions left Philadelphia?

"Well,'' Reid said, "we didn't have the hole in the dome.''

Roy Williams knows that he needs to work harder to earn back the trust of Romo and the offense.

"You know I have to get the confidence of my quarterback, because I didn’t get a look after the first half," Williams said. "I didn’t get a look in the second half. That’s telling me that my quarterback has lost confidence in me, and so has the coordinator as far as calling plays for me."

"That’s not on them. I don’t blame them. I blame myself. I’ve got to get my crap together and try to help this team win some games in the playoffs."

Head coach Wade Phillips praised Williams earlier this week by saying he "played really hard," but Williams acknowledges that he has been a disappointment since arriving from Detroit in a blockbuster trade last season.

Hat tip to dunkman for the post!

Todd Archer spoke with Jason Garrett regarding the offense's short-yardage shortcomings.

"It's hard," assistant head coach Jason Garrett said. "It's hard around the league. We've been among the best at it. Our offensive line is awfully good in those situations. Our runner has been outstanding. You have to be creative. You have to be tough. You have to have great determination. We've done a lot of that. We obviously didn't do it well enough the other night in the game. We're going to go back and look at it, evaluate the physical part of it, evaluate the technique part of it, evaluate the scheme part of it and get it right. We need to get it right as we go forward."

[snip]

"We've done a variety of things and have to keep doing a variety of things to be successful at it," Garrett said. "You don't want to make it too easy on the defense certainly. On short-yardage situations we've been successful handing it to the deep back, successful handing it to the fullback and quarterback sneak as well. That's got to be a part of the arsenal and it is part of it."

ST coach Joe DeCamillis is back at work after his appendectomy surgery. He was pleased with the work Wes Phillips did against the Redskins.

"I thought he did a great job," DeCamillis said of Phillips, who organized most of the special teams meetings this summer when DeCamillis was limited because of the neck and back injury.

"He's been in every meeting from the start of training camp. He's very organized - you can tell. We had no substitution errors. Talking to some players after the game, they all said it ran smoothly. So I thought he did a great job."

Matt Mosely lists the following Cowboys as "snubbed" by the Pro Bowl selection committee.

Tony Romo, Cowboys quarterback: Romo had almost identical numbers to Rodgers and he takes a lot fewer sacks. I wouldn't have had a problem with Romo going instead of Rodgers. Romo has played his best football in December.

Mat McBriar, Cowboys punter: San Francisco's Andy Lee had 21 more opportunities to punt the ball, but he had nine fewer punts downed inside the 20-yard line. McBriar is the master at forcing returners to fair catch the ball at their own 10-yard line. Coaches and players don't pay enough attention to special teams. McBriar had a better season than Lee and deserved to go to the Pro Bowl. Lee had the better net average, but he had a lot more kicks returned against him than McBriar.

 

There are just nine more days left to cast your ballot on the 2nd Round of the HOF votes on fanschoice.com.

Emmitt is now at #6, dropping a spot to another Raider: Lester Hayes. Charles Haley is still at #14, while Ed "Too Tall" Jones remains at #20.

Below, JJT and Skip Bayless discuss pretty much the same topic that yomjoseki asked us, Cowboys fans, in his FanPost. Fun!