The NFC East won’t necessarily be decided this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, but depending on the winner of the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles Week 9 clash, the division race could become a bit clearer.
At 7-1, the Eagles sit atop the NFC East – and atop the conference for that matter – while the 5-2 Cowboys are in control of the NFC’s first wild-card spot. Our model likes both teams to make the playoffs, giving the Eagles a 99.7% chance of playing beyond NFL Week 18 and the Cowboys a 92.4% chance reaching the postseason. But as far as which team takes the division crown, it could come down to the winner of this game on FOX.
Entering Week 9, our projection model calculates that Philadelphia has a 79.3% chance of repeating as NFC East champs, while Dallas has a 55.9% chance of finishing first. If the Eagles prevail, however, their odds of winning the East jump to 85.6%, while the Cowboys’ chances drop to 53.6.
But if Dallas emerges victorious, its likelihood of a first-place finish rises to 66.8%, significantly narrowing the gap with Philadelphia’s chances dropping to 73.1.
A Cowboys upset also gives Dallas a considerable advantage with the Week 14 rematch coming at AT&T Stadium, where they’ve won 11 in a row – the longest active home winning streak in the NFL and tied for the longest home winning streak in franchise history.
So, while the team that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last year can tighten its grip atop the NFC East with a victory, the Cowboys can put some additional pressure on their division rival if it can steal a win in Philadelphia.
The Cowboys are second in the NFL in scoring at 28.1 points per game, just a tick better than the Eagles’ average of 28.0, and this will be the first meeting between these times since last Christmas Eve when Dallas pulled out a 40-34 home victory. Jalen Hurts, however, didn’t play in that one due to an injured shoulder and this will mark just the second time he and Dak Prescott square off.
Last Christmas Eve, Prescott threw for 347 yards with three touchdowns to improve to 7-1 against the Eagles since New Year’s Eve 2018. He’s completing 71.7% of his passes while averaging 286.0 yards with 17 touchdowns to four interceptions for a 110.3 passer rating in the last eight matchups with the only blemish coming at Philly in Week 16 of 2019 (a 17-9 Eagles win).
Prescott enters this matchup coming off his best game of the season. In last Sunday’s 43-20 win over the Rams, he completed 25-of-31 passes for 304 yards with four TDs and one interception, compiling a QB rating of 133.7.
Hurts is also coming off 300-yard, four-touchdown showing in Philadelphia’s 38-31 comeback win over the Washington Commanders. That performance, however, came against a Washington team that ranks 29th in passing defense.
He now faces a Cowboys team that ranks fourth in opponent passing yards (178.6 per game), third in opponent completion percentage (59.4) and third in opponent passer rating (75.9).
Sportsbooks are favoring the Eagles at home in this one, making them 3.0-point favorites with a over/under of 46 currently. That falls in line with our prediction that Philadelphia is the best bet with a 60.3% chance of victory and a projected score of 24-21.
SmartRatings rates this game No. 1 (82) on the Week 9 schedule in terms of excitement level, even ahead of the Miami Dolphins-Kansas City Chiefs tilt in Germany (second at 71). The AI-based platform’s excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game), 85-100 (Great Game).
PHI Key: Protect Hurts
As solid as Philadelphia’s offensive line has been in the run blocking – as evidenced by its success in driving opponents back while running the Tush Push – the team has been a bit susceptible in pass protection.
The Eagles offense is successful 45.0% of the time in the running game – the league’s highest rate – but it ranks in the bottom third in pressure-allowed rate at 38.3. (The NFL average is 36.1%.)
Over the last three weeks, no quarterback has thrown more passes under pressure than Hurts. He’s completing 60.6% of those 33 pass attempts with a well-thrown percentage of 75.8, compared to a completion percentage of 80.0 on 75 pass attempts while not under pressure with a well-thrown percentage of 89.3 (fourth in the NFL among qualifying QBs).
On the season, he has a pickable pass rate of 5.80 while under pressure (10th worst in the league) compared to a pickable pass rate of 1.55 while not under pressure – third lowest in the league.
Hurts already has thrown eight interceptions – two more than all of last season – and lost his third fumble of the season last Sunday. He lost two in 2022.
Obviously, one should be completing more passes and throwing more accurate balls while not under pressure, so those differences shouldn’t be a huge surprise. The fact remains, however, that throwing from a clean pocket breeds more success – and that won’t come easy against Dallas.
The Dallas defense ranks first in the NFL in pressure rate at 42.2%, with two-time All-Pro Micah Parsons leading the charge. Parsons sacked Matthew Stafford last Sunday for his sixth of the season, while defensive end Dorance Armstrong notched his third sack of 2023.
Parsons’ 14 quarterback knockdowns are fifth in the NFL, while his 23 QB hurries are tied for sixth. Among the 42 edge rushers with at least 125 pass rushes, he ranks third in pressure rate at 23.8 and fourth in hurry rate at 15.6.
Parsons lines up all over the field, so Philadelphia’s offensive line will have to identify No. 11 before each snap.
Left tackle Jordan Mailata has a pressure rate-allowed of 9.2 – bit better than the league average for left tackles of 9.6% – while All-Pro right tackle Lane Jackson has a pressure-allowed rate of 4.2 – the best among all right tackles with at least 100 plays in pass protection.
Right guard Sua Opeta has the fourth-worst pressure-allowed rate among qualifying right guards at 9.4% and will have his hands full with defensive tackle Osa Odighizuwa.
Should he face the pressure, Hurts is a threat to scramble, but he’s also dealing with a left knee injury. If the line gives him time to throw, however, Hurts has two of the league’s top playmakers at his disposal at receiver.
A.J. Brown capped an incredible October with eight receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the win at Washington. It marked his sixth straight game with 125+ receiving yards, which is the longest such streak in NFL history, and since Week 3, his 13 receiving plays of 25+ yards are five more than any other receiver in the league.
Given his astounding run, it’s no big surprise that Brown was named October’s NFC offensive player of the month on Thursday.
His running mate, DeVonta Smith, is also coming off a big game, catching seven passes for 99 yards with a TD against the Commanders, and the duo are two of the best in the NFL at beating the defensive back covering them and creating space.
Highest Burn Yards/Target (Min. 50 Targets)
- Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (15.62)
- Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins (14.88)
- Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints (14.21)
- DJ Moore, Chicago Bears (14.06)
- DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles (13.67)
- A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles (13.53)
With Trevon Diggs on the injury report as out, DaRon Bland will likely spend most of his time matching up against Brown, while Stephon Gilmore will be asked to cover Smith.
The underdog Cowboys also have a game-breaker at wide receiver, and Prescott and the offense have an advantageous matchup in the passing game.
DAL Key: Air It Out
The Cowboys’ Texas Coast offense dinked and dunked its way down the field in the first six games before heading into a Week 7 bye. The offense that came out of the bye, however, had a new look – one that better resembles most offenses in 2023.
Against the Rams, the Cowboys had 17 plays go for 10 or more yards after averaging 12 per game through their first six contests, and all four of their offensive touchdowns were of 10+ yards – the same number they had in their first six games combined.
And it’s not like their offensive eruption came against a shoddy defense.
The Rams came into the game allowing an average of 209.0 passing yards and had permitted a league-low four touchdowns through the air. Prescott had three passing touchdowns by halftime and added a 25-yard TD throw to Brandin Cooks in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
Prescott averaged 8.81 air yards per throw last week after averaging 7.10 air yards through Week 7 – the fifth lowest in the NFL among qualifying QBs.
CeeDee Lamb was the beneficiary of the aerial assault and had the best game of his career, catching 12 passes for 158 yards with two touchdowns. He had seven plays go for 10+ yards after having 20 such plays in his first six games.
In the last two games, he’s been targeted 21 times, and has caught 19 passes.
Cooks had a season-high 49 receiving yards on three catches last week, while tight end Jake Ferguson had four receptions for 47 yards and was on the receiving end of Prescott’s other TD throw.
Prescott and company now take aim at a secondary that was gashed last week by Sam Howell, allowing the second-year quarterback to complete 75.0% of his passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns.
Howell and the Commanders reeled off 16 passing plays for at least 10 yards, further exposing Philadelphia’s shaky secondary.
Most Passing Plays Allowed of 10+ Yards
- 1. Philadelphia Eagles (89)
- 2. Denver Broncos (87)
- T-3. Los Angeles Chargers (84)
- T-3. Jacksonville Jaguars (84)
- T-5. Arizona Cardinals (82)
- T-5. Detroit Lions (82)
Philadelphia has the league’s top-ranked rushing defense, allowing an average of 65.5 yards on the ground, but is yielding an average of 247.5 yards through the air – the seventh-worst mark. The Eagles defense has surrendered the third-most passing touchdowns (16) and has the second-fewest interceptions (four).
Cornerback Darius Slay has half of the team’s interceptions, but also has a burn-allowed percentage of 64.3 – the fifth-worst mark among the 46 corners that have been targeted at least 30 times.
Slay will likely draw the tough assignment of covering Lamb, who has registered a burn percentage of 76.2 over the last three weeks. That’s the highest rate among the 36 receivers targeted at least 20 times.
Slay and fellow corners James Bradberry and Josh Jobe have a combined big play-allowed percentage of 28.1, while the league average for corners is 25.9.
Prescott has had the Eagles’ number over the last few years, and a win in this showdown would set up a compelling race for the NFC East crown over the final two months of the season.