One look at the standings makes it very easy to scoff at the notion that Sunday’s showdown against Dallas is a must-win game for the Philadelphia Eagles. For starters, they can lose the contest and still win the NFC East (rather easily) by some pre-determined tiebreakers.
Wait, how is that possible? Because the only way the Cowboys can win the division is if the Eagles wind up with four losses, not three. So, Philadelphia remains in the driver’s seat assuming they beat the Giants (Dec. 25, Jan. 7) twice to close out the year, coupled with victories over the Seahawks (Dec. 18) and Cardinals (Dec. 31).
That’s the good news. The bad? Well, the Eagles would be in a dogfight to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC if they were to lose on Sunday. Remember, San Francisco owns the head-to-head tiebreaker following their 42-19 bludgeoning of the Eagles last week. So, yes, beating Dallas is a must-win game, perhaps the most important non-playoff game in recent history. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the Eagles cannot afford to lose.
“I just don’t see it any different that we have a big game against a division rival that’s the Cowboys. It’s a huge game for us,” head coach Nick Sirianni told reporters on Dec. 6. “Every game is big, but we’re really excited about going out there and playing. I know we’ll have a challenge because we know how good they are.”
One Loss Opens the Door
If the Eagles (10-2) go undefeated the rest of the way, it doesn’t matter what the 49ers (9-3) or Cowboys (9-3) do. They will win the NFC East and lock up the No. 1 overall seed in the conference. Plain and simple. Lose on Sunday? The 49ers steal the spot by winning out. Meanwhile, the Cowboys would need the 49ers and Eagles to both earn a fourth loss, plus Dallas would need to beat Detroit on Dec. 30 to have a crack at the No. 1 seed.
Jalen Hurts Kryptonite
There is no denying Jalen Hurts’ ascension into the pantheon of the best quarterbacks doing it right now. He’s an MVP candidate for a second straight year despite playing on an injured knee. He’s selfless and gritty, embodying every single quality you want in a leader. But, the one team that has caused Hurts fits in recent years is the Cowboys. He’s gone 3-2 versus Dallas in five career matchups while throwing four interceptions which is more than he’s chucked against any other opponent. Further, the Cowboys have sacked him 12 times and forced 48 incompletions on 127 attempts.
Proving Nick Bosa Wrong
San Francisco star Nick Bosa made waves earlier this week when he claimed the 49ers “put out the blueprint” for stopping Jalen Hurts. What did they do? Bosa said: “We made Jalen stay in the pocket and escape outside instead of those B-gaps,” adding that Hurts is looking at the rush on every play. The Cowboys have surely watched that tape and saw the same thing, so it’s up to Hurts — and, more specifically, offensive coordinator Brian Johnson — to counter the strategy and make the proper adjustments.
There hasn’t been a repeat winner in the NFC East since 2005 when the Eagles won it. In fact, Philadelphia won the division four times in a row under Andy Reid. That seems like a crazy stat and, perhaps, a meaningless one in the grand scheme of things but history has a funny way of tightening people up. And don’t think for a minute that the Cowboys don’t want to prevent the Eagles from putting a chokehold on the NFC East by beating them in their building. Dallas is 6-0 at home this year — and that winning streak stretches to 14 games dating back to last year, including five straight over Philly.
The Eagles never make excuses for losing. It’s not in Nick Sirianni’s DNA. It’s not in Jalen Hurts’ vocabulary. However, they have been dealing with a slew of unfortunate injuries throughout the 2023 campaign — Dallas Goedert, Zach Cunningham, Avonte Maddox, Nakobe Dean, Cam Jurgens, among others. Not this week. Goedert (out since Week 9) and Cunningham (missed Week 13) carry no injury designation. Ditto for Darius Slay who missed back-to-back practices earlier this week. This is the most healthy that Philly has been all year, plus new linebacker Shaq Leonard is expected to make his debut. No excuses.
AP Photo/Matt Slocum