In the midst of one of most dominant and prolific home stretches in NFL history, the Dallas Cowboys sure would like to be playing in their own building come playoff time.
That likely won’t happen, though, without a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday in a colossal showdown certain to have a profound impact on the NFC’s hierarchy for the looming postseason.
Though only one game separates these longtime bitter rivals in the NFC East standings, the Cowboys in essence have a wider gap to close on the first-place Eagles than it appears. Even with a loss in Big D this week, Philadelphia would still hold a tiebreaker advantage to decide the division champion should both teams win out the rest of the way (the Eagles currently have only one conference loss to the Cowboys’ three).
Philadelphia also has a far less treacherous path to navigate down the stretch. The Eagles possess the league’s second easiest schedule based on current records over the final four weeks, while the Cowboys face potential pitfalls in upcoming trips to Buffalo and Miami before a massive home date against the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions in Week 17.
EAGLES & COWBOYS SCHEDULE AFTER NFL WEEK 14
- at Seattle Seahawks (6-6)
- New York Giants (4-8)
- Arizona Cardinals (3-10)
- at New York Giants (4-8)
- Combined Record: 17-32 (.347)
- at Buffalo Bills (6-6)
- at Miami Dolphins (9-3)
- Detroit Lions (9-3)
- at Washington Commanders (4-9)
- Combined Record: 28-21 (.571)
That softer slate is one reason why our season projection model still gives the Eagles an 86.5% chance to take the NFC East, even though we’ve forecasted Dallas as the best bets in this Sunday Night Football clash on NBC.
At the very least, the Cowboys will need to avenge their 28-23 Week 9 defeat in Philadelphia, win three of their last four at a minimum (with the Detroit and Washington games being must-haves), and hope the Eagles stub their toes in Seattle next week to have any realistic chance of capturing the division.
Lose Sunday, and Dallas is virtually destined to be visiting the NFC South champ in the playoffs’ opening round.
The stakes are big for Philly as well (and we’re not talking about food here), as last week’s eyebrow-raising 42-19 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers has left the Eagles with precious little margin for error in their quest to earn the all-important NFC No. 1 overall seed. Another setback this week would give the 49ers the inside track to the conference’s top spot assuming they take care of business at home against the Seahawks on Sunday.
Fresh off by far their worst performance of the season, the Eagles now fly into a venue where the Cowboys have been bludgeoning opponents throughout this campaign.
Dallas has won 14 straight games at AT&T Stadium dating back to Week 2 of last season, and most of its 2023 wins there have come exceptionally easy. The Cowboys’ point differential of plus-151 is the fifth highest of any team in the Super Bowl era through its first six home games of a season, and they’ve joined two Tom Brady-led teams (2007 New England Patriots, 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers) as the only ones in NFL history to score 30 or more points in each of their first six home games.
MOST POINTS THROUGH FIRST 6 HOME GAMES IN SUPER BOWL ERA
- 2023 Dallas Cowboys (246)
- 2014 Green Bay Packers (245)
- 2013 Denver Broncos (245)
- 1966 Dallas Cowboys (245)
- 2011 Green Bay Packers (241)
The significance of two of the NFC’s heavyweights going toe-to-toe in front of a nationally televised primetime audience isn’t lost on SmartRatings, which has placed Eagles-Cowboys in the upper-tier “Great Game” category with an 85.
And if our prediction of a shootout that could be decided by the slimmest of margins holds true, that rating could actually end up being a bit light.
Sportsbooks have installed the Cowboys as a 3.5-point favorite with an over/under line of 51.5 points, a total our supercomputer says may be a little too low while suggesting the spread may be tilted too much on Dallas’ side.
PHI Key: Protect Jalen Hurts
When factoring in how potent the Dallas has been offensively at home and Philadelphia’s worrisome defensive issues of late (more on that later), the Eagles are going to need to score some points – and probably a whole lot of them – to win this game. And that should be at least a moderate concern for an offense that hasn’t been quite at its best at this stage of the season.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts has completed just 59.2% of his passes over the last three weeks after he connected on nearly 69% of them during Philly’s 8-1 start, and he’s averaged over a full yard less per attempt during that stretch compared to the first nine games.
There are a couple of plausible explanations for that drop-off. First off, the Eagles didn’t have Dallas Goedert available for any of those last three games after he fractured his forearm in the previous meeting with the Cowboys. The trusty tight end has caught over 73% of his targets this season as the offense’s valuable safety valve, a role the Eagles have had trouble filling during his absence.
Goedert’s return this week should be very good news for both Hurts and No. 1 receiver A.J. Brown, who had been in a mini-slump before returning to form with last Sunday’s eight-catch, 114-yard display against the 49ers.
The more alarming matter at hand for the Eagles right now is their recent struggles in pass protection. Hurts has been pressured on a league-high 47.6% of his adjusted throws since Week 10, and the hits are starting to take their effect. Already playing through a bruised left knee sustained earlier in the season, the franchise quarterback gave the Philly faithful an even greater scare when he briefly left the San Francisco debacle to be checked for a concussion.
It’s an area the Eagles need to immediately address against a Dallas defense that’s built on getting to the quarterback, and creates a great deal of havoc when it does on a regular basis.
The Cowboys have recorded a pressure rate above 40% six times this season. In those six games, opposing quarterbacks have a combined completion percentage of 56.3% with 10 interceptions and an overall passer rating of 58.7. And it’s no coincidence that four of playmaking cornerback DaRon Bland’s NFL season-record five Pick-6s have come in games in which Dallas has exceeded the 40% pressure threshold.
Neutralize Micah Parsons, the league’s individual leader in pressure rate, and his formidable edge-rushing mates, however, and the Cowboys defense becomes extremely vulnerable. Enemy quarterbacks have produced a 120 passer rating or better in each of the Cowboys’ three losses, and they finished with a pressure rate below 34% in each of them.
HIGHEST PRESSURE RATE (Min. 150 Pass Rush Attempts)
- Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys (25.1)
- Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers (24.7)
- Bryce Huff, New York Jets (23.2)
- Rashan Gary, Green Bay Packers (22.8)
- Jadeveon Clowney, Baltimore Ravens (22.7)
That includes the Week 9 meeting in Philadelphia, where the Eagles allowed pressures on just 33.3% of Hurts’ attempts on a turnover-free day when he completed a crisp 17-of-23 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns for a QB rating of 130.2.
DAL Key: Convert in the Red Zone
Points have rarely been a problem for the Cowboys and especially so in Arlington, where they’re averaging an astounding 41.0 per game and have scored on 60.9% of their drives – by far the highest mark in the NFL.
The league’s highest scoring team has been a very average one inside the red zone, however. Dallas ranks 17th overall in touchdown percentage inside the opposing 20-yard line at 53.7%, and it’s also squarely mid-pack in red zone scoring efficiency (87.0%, 14th) and average points within the red zone (4.78 per possession, 15th).
Dallas has paid the price at times for that lack of proficiency, and it could be the main reason why it’s far more likely to wind up as the NFC’s No. 5 seed instead of the No. 1. It was a big problem in the Cowboys’ stunning loss to the 3-10 Cardinals in September, as they managed only one touchdown in five red-zone trips and came up empty on two others.
Inadequate red-zone execution arguably cost the Cowboys in their Week 9 defeat in Philadelphia as well. Dallas was stopped on downs at the goal line early in the fourth quarter, then later reached the Eagles’ 6-yard line in the final minute before a penalty and a sack ultimately made achieving a go-ahead touchdown too difficult a task.
A Philadelphia defense that’s surrendered over 450 total yards in each of the last two weeks and has been lit up for 1,531 net passing yards since Week 8 – the most by any team over a five-game span this season – shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to Dallas outside the red zone. MVP candidate Dak Prescott is on as good a six-game run as any quarterback in recent memory, and star receiver CeeDee Lamb looks primed for another big day after scorching the Eagles for 191 yards on 11 catches in the previous Cowboys vs. Eagles matchup.
Though Lamb has unquestionably been brilliant this season, he’s at his best when having space to operate. That’s reflected in his rather pedestrian numbers inside the red zone, where the two-time Pro Bowler has hauled in under half of his targets.
LOWEST RECEPTION% OF WRs IN THE RED ZONE (Min. 10 Targets)
- Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27.3)
- DeAndre Hopkins, Tennessee Titans (33.3)
- Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (35.7)
- Calvin Ridley, Jacksonville Jaguars (42.9)
- CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys (45.5)
The Cowboys could probably use a little more variety when down near the goal line as well. Lamb’s 22 red-zone targets are the most of any player this season, while teammate Jake Ferguson ranks second with 20 and no other Cowboy has more than 11.
Again, Dallas shouldn’t have much trouble pushing the ball downfield, but the offense can clearly do a better job of cashing in on its opportunities.
The Cowboys reached the red zone a whopping eight times in last week’s 41-35 win over Seattle and settled for field goals on four of those possessions, making the final result a lot closer than it probably should have been.
The Cowboys let one game against the Eagles slip away. Another would just about ensure America’s Team may be coming to a city near you for the playoffs.