The NFC East was supposed to be a two-way race between the Cowboys and Eagles, as it has been for the last few yeas. In fact, you have to go back to the 2015 season - before the Cowboys had Dak Prescott and the Eagles had Carson Wentz - to find a year where the NFC East was won by either of the other two teams. Since then, the Cowboys have gone 40-24 with two division titles, while the Eagles are 38-26 with two division titles and, of course, a Super Bowl ring.
So yes, this week in Philadelphia was supposed to be the first of two marquee matchups between these titans of the division. But instead, Philly enters with a pitiful 2-4-1 record - good enough to lead the division, somehow - while Dallas is limping in with a 2-5 record. Because the NFL doesn’t flex games out of time slots until much later in the year, the whole nation will be forced to watch this slopfest on Sunday night, in all its glory.
The story for these two teams has largely been the same. Both have been crushed by injuries and largely unable to overcome them. For the Eagles, it was their offensive line that got bit first. Back in June, three-time Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks tore his Achilles. In training camp, second-year tackle Andre Dillard - in line to be the starting left tackle going forward - tore his biceps muscle. Jason Peters, the former left tackle who had been signed to replace Brooks at guard, then moved back to left tackle. Peters then went on the injured reserve three games into the year with a toe injury. Isaac Seumalo, the Eagles’ other starting guard, injured his knee after Week 2 and was also placed on the injured reserve.
In short, the Eagles offensive line is a mess. But the injuries didn’t stop there. Both of Philly’s top tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, are currently on the injured reserve. Ertz is expected to return, but his absence has hurt an offense that placed a lot of emphasis on the tight ends; they were the top Eagles last year in catches, yards, and touchdowns. Compounding those issues, veteran receiver DeSean Jackson and first-round rookie receiver Jalen Reagor have also both on the injured reserve, forcing college quarterback Greg Ward and undrafted rookie Travis Fulgham into the top roles of this passing game. However, Reagor is expected to return Sunday night.
Dallas, of course, feels their pain. Their offensive line has also been decimated by injuries. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are out for the year, Travis Frederick is retired, and the Cowboys’ top two swing tackles - Cam Erving and Brandon Knight - have had overlapping injuries that have forced undrafted rookie Terence Steele into starting every game this year at right tackle. At least Dallas gets Zack Martin back this week after he missed last week with a concussion.
But while the Cowboys haven’t had their receiver corps taken out - sans Blake Jarwin, although Dalton Schultz has stepped in admirably - they did lose their franchise quarterback for the year. Then, two games later, they lost their experienced backup quarterback for at least a week, meaning that rookie Ben DiNucci will make his first career start against the Eagles after throwing the first three passes of his career last week.
In other words, don’t expect a high-scoring game from these two. Both teams have been playing some really bad football this year, injuries or not. The only reason the Eagles currently lead the division outright is because head coach Doug Pederson chose to punt away an opportunity to win in overtime against the Bengals. That tie is the difference-maker in the standings right now. Their only two wins have come against the terrible Giants and a 49ers team that played without most of their impact starters.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been putting on a clinic in how turnovers and leaky defense can kill a team. Dallas is dead last in the NFL in turnover differential with an embarrassing -13 mark, and their defense is dead last in points allowed, rushing yards allowed, and rush yards per attempt. They’re slightly better when it comes to defensive DVOA, where they rank 30th.
That said, the Eagles aren’t much better. They’re fourth-worst in turnover differential, and the defense ranks in the bottom ten in points allowed and rushing yards allowed. And their offense has actually been worse so far this season, ranking three spots below Dallas in offensive DVOA. However, the Cowboys have yet to play a full game with DiNucci under center, so that could change.
The gist of this game is it’s going to be terrible, and may very well set the sport of football back a few decades with how bad it will be. A win for the Eagles would give them a little breathing room at the top of the division, while a Cowboys win would put them in a tie for the lead unless Washington loses to the Giants (which is very possible!). The best possible outcome, though? A tie, because neither of these teams deserves to win.