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Cowboys @ Eagles: A Week 16 primer for the 2019 regular season

It’s all on the line (mostly) in this de facto NFC East title game.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The date was October 20, and the Cowboys hosted the Eagles for the first of two games against their bitter rivals. Both teams entered the matchup sitting at an even 3-3 record, a big disappointment for both teams given their lofty expectations coming into the year. The winner would gain a one-game lead in the division and the tiebreaker, an important thing to have as the two would not play each other again until the penultimate game of the year.

The Cowboys obliterated the Eagles 37-10, with Dak Prescott putting up 269 total yards of offense and two touchdowns in addition to Ezekiel Elliott’s 111 yard game. And a defense that had struggled to create takeaways managed to grab three fumbles and one interception en route to shutting down Carson Wentz.

Now, the Cowboys travel to the city of brotherly love with both teams sitting at 7-7. If Dallas wins, they would clinch the NFC East and become only the second team this century to win this division in consecutive years. If Philadelphia wins, they would gain the top spot in the division but would still need a win over the Giants next week to ensure a division crown.

In other words, this is the closest we’ve ever gotten to a straight up division championship game. Both teams come into this game with some momentum, but neither are being looked at as real contenders. For Dallas, they endured a brutal three-game losing streak that featured two games where they were getting blown out by halftime. Then, they suddenly looked like the team everyone expected them to be by utterly demolishing the Rams last week 44-21.

The Eagles, on the other hand, endured a three-game losing streak of their own that was capped off by losing to the Miami Dolphins of all teams. But an overtime win against the Eli Manning Giants and a fourth-quarter comeback over the Redskins has this team on a win streak, albeit against two really, really bad teams.

The problem for the Eagles is that their offense has been reduced to a bare bones operation. Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson are both on the injured reserve, and Nelson Agholor is in serious danger of missing his third straight game with a knee injury. That’s forced Philadelphia to rejigger their passing game to feature tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and rookie running back Miles Sanders, which hasn’t been easy.

By contrast, the Cowboys’ biggest problem is uncertainty on which team will show up. Will it be the juggernaut that did everything they wanted on offense and gave up nothing on defense? Or will the offense sputter on key drives and the defense burst wide open at the worst possible times? Adding to that uncertainty is the injury to Prescott, which has him limited in practice so far. While he’s expected to play Sunday, it has to be concerning given the implications of this game.

Playing the game on the road also complicates things, especially considering the Cowboys offense tends to perform worse in road games. In fact, Dallas is scoring 30 points per game at home, compared to just 24 points per game on the road. That said, two of their better games, as well as two of Prescott’s best performances all year, came on the road against NFC East teams, so perhaps they travel well against familiar foes. For what it’s worth, Prescott’s career numbers in Philadelphia have him completing 63.5% of his passes for 486 yards and two touchdowns with zero picks.

While Dallas is narrowly favored to win this game, the Eagles are looking for a bit of revenge after they got beat down on national television the last time these two teams met. Furthermore, a loss would end their season and block them from posting a winning record. But injuries to both their receiving corps and secondary have turned the Eagles into a very beatable team in recent weeks, and opposing teams have easily exploited those weaknesses even if it didn’t result in a win.

The Cowboys have already beat this team once this year, and they have yet to drop a division game all season long. If they can do it again against a weaker team, they’ll clinch a playoff spot and bring themselves that much closer to the magical postseason run Jerry Jones is dreaming of. And while a loss wouldn’t end their season, it’d be as close to a nail in the coffin as you can get without actually being eliminated. It all comes down to this game, though.

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