It’s finally here. At least since the first game with the Philadelphia Eagles, and perhaps as far back as the loss to the San Francisco 49ers, this game has been seen as a pivotal one for the Dallas Cowboys. With the 49ers having just administered a beating to the Eagles on Sunday that was much like the one they dealt out to the Cowboys, this game would put Dallas in the lead for the NFC East crown if they can get the win.
However, that is not as important as you might think, because if Philadelphia wins its final four games, it simply doesn’t matter how the final ones go for the Cowboys. With the tie-breakers involved, the Eagles truly can control their division destiny, although the San Francisco 49ers are a definite threat to them for the number one seed. That is not a concern for Dallas. Really, the division title is a thing they should not worry too much about, as they face a much harder closing slate of games than Philadelphia does.
Crucially, though, they have to win this game to have any realistic expectations of playoff success. Making the postseason has become something of a foregone conclusion, with ESPN putting their odds at over 99%. Winning the division and even the bye could fall into their laps if they take care of business, but this game is more about proving their status as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. If they cannot beat the Eagles in this game, all the criticisms of them not being able to beat winning teams will roar back to life after being somewhat abated by the hard-fought win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Like it or not, Philadelphia has staked a legitimate claim to being one of the NFL’s elite teams over the past few seasons, including shaking the Super Bowl runner up curse. While the Seahawks were the best test the Cowboys had faced since Eagles part one, few expected them to put up such a fight and force some heroics from Dallas to get the win. Unless they show they can beat a more formidable foe the doubts about their capacity to advance in the playoffs are warranted. It also would be back-to-back wins against a winning team, something they are going to have to be able to do the rest of the way to keep from limping into the postseason. They know that both the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions will boast winning records when they face them, and if the Buffalo Bills can beat the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend, it will be five in a row.
We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
While winning this game is almost a necessity, how they win may matter just as much. It doesn’t have to be a big margin of victory, but Dallas needs something better than having to pull it out in the fourth the way they did last Thursday. Offensively they look to be in good shape, with the Dak Prescott MVP case growing each week as CeeDee Lamb, Jake Ferguson, and Brandin Cooks provide a trio of dangerous targets.
The defense, however, struggled against Seattle. They cannot allow Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown to look like Geno Smith and D.K. Metcalf did. And they need to pay a lot of attention to how San Francisco neutralized the running ability of Hurts. Above all, they need to make sure the Eagles do not get into third/fourth and short, because no one has figured out how to stop the Brotherly Shove from getting past the sticks.
A solid win would be great for the Cowboys, reinforcing their confidence. Obviously a loss would be a fairly disheartening affair. A two- or three-score win would be best, but we don’t want to see a fluky result where a questionable penalty is a factor in the win, marring the quality of a victory. This needs to be a game where Dallas wins and it is a clear case of them outplaying Philadelphia.
It can also have a significant effect on the Eagles. If they suffer back-to-back beatdowns, they will be the team suddenly facing questions about how real they are. All season, they have been winning games by narrow margins with some remarkable luck. That ran out on Sunday, and we can hope it won’t return this weekend. A lot of people, including the Dallas fan base, think Philadelphia is winning with a bit of smoke and mirrors. This is a chance to make that a plausible theory.
It really shouldn’t be as big a motivator as it is, but we also can’t help wanting to see Nick Sirianni and the entire Eagles fan base served a big helping of humble pie. Or maybe humiliation pie would be more accurate. But a blow to the confidence of their roster is the real value of a solid win by the Cowboys. There is an excellent chance these two teams could face off in the playoffs, and the odds are it will be back in Philadelphia. That is a much better situation if the Eagles know they are facing a team that was able to handle them.
It isn’t just style points involved here. Attitude and confidence are impossible to quantify but undoubtedly play a big factor in NFL games. This Sunday night will do a lot to establish those for the winners, and it would be a much more difficult thing for Dallas to make a run in the postseason if they drop this one. That is from both an objective and subjective stance. This game will give us a lot of evidence for just how good the Cowboys and Eagles are relative to each other. And the winner will gain some valuable swagger. We have had this one circled all season. It has the potential to be even more significant than we thought back when the schedule was announced. It will almost certainly be a ratings bonanza, especially if it is reasonably close into the second half. Dallas has been a good closer this year, so that could well be the case.
A win is so important in this one. How it comes about is just as crucial.