NBC has already had a couple of clunkers on Sunday Night Football, although things have looked better the past couple of weeks. They are poised to have big ratings this week as the Dallas Cowboys are on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. As many expected, this one will determine the early leader for the NFC East. The stakes are higher for Dallas, as they would fall two games behind Philadelphia with a loss, while a win would give them the momentary lead in the division due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. It also could leave them in third place with the surprising performance of the New York Giants this year.
It is a big game. But with more than two-thirds of the season to play, just how big is it? Our David Howman and Tom Ryle discuss.
David: I would say this is easily the biggest game the Cowboys have played this year, but the season is still young. Dallas finds itself in an unexpected scenario where they’ve played great ball without Dak Prescott and are looking around them at a fairly unimpressive NFC. If Prescott returns to form when he gets back on the field, this is absolutely a team that can earn the coveted number one seed in the NFC.
So in that sense, this game becomes a big deal because it gives the Cowboys a chance to jump to the front of the race before we even get to November. But playoff seeding is never determined this early. Keep in mind, the Cowboys started last year 6-1 and had great odds of getting that first-round bye. Then they ended up with the three seed, and we all know how that one ended up. Winning division games is always important, but I’m not buying this matchup as one that’s going to be the deciding factor in the division race or the race for the top seed.
Tom: Yes, there are a lot of games left to play. But “a lot” is a relative term in the NFL. After this game there are just eleven left. If the Cowboys lose and fall two games behind the Eagles, that is hard to make up against what regrettably looks like a very good Philadelphia team.
Both the Cowboys and Eagles have what look like weak schedules ahead of them. If Dallas loses the game, they are in a stern chase and would need some help. That is not readily apparent looking forward. The season may not be lost, with a good chance to get a wildcard bid in an apparently weak NFC. But the winner of the NFC East looks to have a great shot at that number one seed. That should be the goal. Winning this game would be a big step. Losing could see that become out of reach. The Cowboys need this win more than we might think.
David: That’s the other thing, though: I’m still not sold on this Eagles team being all that good. Four of their five wins have come against teams with a combined 6-14 record on the year, and two of those wins involved some fluky stuff: Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence became the first player at any position to lose four fumbles in a game this century, and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray decided to slide short of the first down marker on a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
The only one of those wins that actually can be called impressive is the Vikings win, but even then you’ve got the caveat of the Kirk Cousins Night Game Curse coming into play. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have notched wins against both teams that were in the Super Bowl a year ago and they stand to see a sizable improvement on offense when Dak Prescott returns. The Eagles are squeaking by bad teams with their key players at full strength.
Simply put, I think the Eagles are fool’s gold right now. They face an easy schedule, which will undoubtedly propel them to the playoffs one way or another, but I don’t see them having as high of a ceiling as the Cowboys based on how both teams have played thus far.
Tom: The entire picture here is muddied by the Prescott injury. We don’t really know how good the Cowboys are until he returns. Obviously, the defense is killer. But we have to see if the offense can become even close to that effective.
The problem this week is that the signs are not good for Prescott’s return.
Mike McCarthy: “We are preparing for Cooper (Rush) to start against the Eagles.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 12, 2022
This makes things this week much more difficult, but countering it is that the Cowboys would at least be set to make a charge once Prescott is back. However, that circles right back to how difficult it will be with a loss on Sunday. Maybe the Eagles are a paper tiger, but right now, they are the only undefeated team in the league. Winning can become a habit in the NFL, and unfortunately they are trending that way.
As I said, this game could well be the difference between a top seed and a wild card bid. To me it is still something of a must win, even this early. Certainly the road will be much harder if Dallas can’t pull this one off.
David: I’m of the opinion that every game is a must win so I can’t really disagree with you on that. The fact is that the calculus is much more favorable if Dallas wins on the road Sunday night; they would then control their destiny in both the division and conference races. So, yes, it would be objectively great if the Cowboys win this game, and they would no longer control their destiny in the NFC if they lose.
But the season is still young. They have seven more conference games after this week, three of which are divisional matchups, including a home game against these same Eagles the day before Christmas. So much can change between now and then, and history tells us it will. So I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world if they can’t extend the win streak on Sunday.
But, just to be safe, how about a win? Dallas forever and Philly for never, after all.