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NFL Preview - Philadelphia (9-6) at Dallas (8-7)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - "We Know Drama" is the slogan for the television network TNT.
NBC, though, has the luxury of providing the nationally televised matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys on "Sunday Night Football" at AT&T Stadium.
Much is at stake between the NFC East rivals in this regular season finale and the winner will claim a division title. The Eagles last won the NFC East in 2010 and the Cowboys were division winners in 2009, when they beat the Eagles in Week 17 and in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Dallas put itself in position for an NFC East title by outlasting the Washington Redskins, 24-23, Sunday at FedEx Field. One week after blowing a 23-point halftime lead versus Green Bay, the Cowboys displayed resilience and poise in the nation's capital and oft-criticized quarterback Tony Romo battled through back pain to throw a game-winning 10-yard TD pass to DeMarco Murray with 1:08 remaining in the game.
Romo scrambled on that balky back and fired a pass to Murray, who barreled into the right side of the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. It appeared Romo suffered a knee injury late in the fourth quarter, but he later revealed it was his back that bothered him.
"I tweaked it in the game," Romo said after the Cowboys erased a 23-14 deficit. "For whatever reason, just the twist or whatever that was, definitely just made it not feel comfortable."
The back issue is worse than anticipated for Romo and he will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair the problem. Romo received an epidural injection this week to deaden the pain, but it couldn't prevent him from going under the knife.
"We spent the week exhausting all options regarding Tony's situation, treatment, rehab all the different things. We consulted a lot of different people on this," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "We just felt like, as we discussed it, as yesterday wore on, that this was the best decision for him and our organization moving forward. We felt like it was better to have this done sooner rather than later."
Romo, who agreed to a six-year, $108 million contract extension with $55 million in guarantees and a $25 million signing bonus in the offseason, threw for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games.
Backup Kyle Orton will get the start and newly signed Jon Kitna will serve as his backup versus the Eagles.
Orton has seen action in one game this season, passing for 40 yards and completing 3-of-5 passes in a loss at Chicago. Orton achieved success in his career with Chicago and Denver, and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has confidence in the former Purdue star.
"I think he's done a fantastic job with his preparation," Callahan said. "Leading up to this point, I think he's done tremendous, so I think it's seamless in terms of transition and what he's done."
Meanwhile, Murray basically carried the Cowboys past the rival Redskins. Murray ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries and caught three passes for 15 yards and that big score at the end. He has rushed for at least 80 yards in five of the last six games, averaging 102.3 rushing yards per game in that time. Murray eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.
"It's a great opportunity to be here. A lot of teams ... their season is done right now," Murray said. "We have the opportunity to win this next one and move on."
The Cowboys were in that position last season, but dropped a 28-18 decision at Washington and were home for the playoffs for a third straight year. They lost to the Giants in 2011 in Week 17 as well.
Dallas ended a two-game losing streak and won for the third time in five weeks. It has won at least eight games for a third year in a row.
Philadelphia has vastly exceeded last season's win total of four games (4-12) with a 9-7 mark after destroying the Chicago Bears, 54-11, Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles were pegged to win maybe five or six games under first-year head coach Chip Kelly, but are in position to win the division and host a playoff game. They came out firing off the jump versus a Bears team looking to secure an NFC North title and led 21-0 after the first quarter. The game had no meaning for the Eagles as far as wrapping up a division is concerned, but they played tough for 60 minutes and racked up 514 yards of offense.
Eagles running back and NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy (1,476) had 133 yards and a pair of touchdown on 18 carries and caught six passes for 29 yards. Bryce Brown also ran for 100 yards, posting 115 and a score on nine touches.
Nick Foles completed 21-of-25 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He did not thrown an interception for the Eagles, winners in six of their last seven games. Philly has ripped off four straight wins at home and Foles is looking forward to a rematch with Dallas, which recorded a 17-3 win at the Linc back on Oct. 20. Foles had his worst game of the season in that one, passing for 80 yards and completing just 11-of-29 passes before exiting with a concussion.
"I'm excited to go to Dallas and play another game," said Foles. "It's a huge game. Everyone knows what's on the line."
McCoy finished with 55 yards on 18 carries in the first meeting with Dallas, which has won three straight and seven of the last 10 meetings with the Eagles and leads the all-time series by a 62-47 margin. The Cowboys are 5-0 against the NFC East, while the Eagles have an 8-3 mark in conference play.
McCoy talked about this upcoming game.
"I can tell you they didn't see the best of the Eagles," McCoy said. "They didn't see the best of Nick Foles or LeSean McCoy.
"They didn't see the best of us, but they will this Sunday, so it'll be a different story."
Philadelphia is 6-2 since the loss versus Dallas and its offense emerged in that span. The Eagles, who are 5-2 on the road, are first in rushing yards per game (161.9) and second in both total yards (420.7) and points scored (27.9).
Dallas is 5-2 at home and has one of the worst defenses in the league, sitting last in yards allowed (418.6), 31st in passing yards allowed, 27th against the run (127.9) and 26th in points allowed (27.2).
"We're all excited," Eagles linebacker and leading tackler DeMeco Ryans said of this weekend's matchup. "We're pumped about it. You can't write it any better. It's for the NFC East championship and in Dallas. We're pumped about it. Like (Chip Kelly) said, our playoffs start next week and it's win or go home and that's the attitude that we all have."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Cowboys make up for an inept defense with some playmakers on offense. Dez Bryant had 73 yards and a touchdown on four receptions Sunday and has scored in each of the last four games. The mercurial wide receiver posted 110 yards on eight catches in the first meeting with the Eagles and will try to get the best of them again.
Bryant will face an Eagles' defense that is 30th in both passing yards allowed (285.2) and total yards allowed (392.7). Philadelphia, however, has stepped up its defensive play in recent weeks and against big name receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.
Look for Eagles defensive back Cary Williams to get involved early and often with both his play and commentary on the field.
"It's everything," Williams said of Sunday's showdown. "Everything. Everything we worked so hard for in the offseason, camp, preseason, up until this moment. It means everything. It's the biggest one we got."
Williams and Co. must be prepared for the other Dallas receivers in Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Miles Austin. All three came up huge during the Cowboys' two fourth-quarter drives in which they converted three third downs and two fourth downs.
"You've got guys playing like that, that stuff is contagious," Bryant said of spreading the ball around. "It just runs through the whole team. I can roll with that anytime of the day, anywhere, it doesn't matter. I'm behind it. I'm with that."
The Cowboys also have tight end Jason Witten, who owns seven TD catches and 1,281 receiving yards in 20 career games against the Eagles.
Philadelphia will try to disrupt Orton's patience and timing in the pocket and recorded five sacks on Bears QB Jay Cutler. Trent Cole recorded three of those sacks and Mychal Kendricks had the other two. Ryans and Vinny Curry had the sacks on Romo in the first meeting.
As for the Eagles' offense, McCoy sets the tone and is prepared to back up his words that the Cowboys will be seeing a different team than a few months ago. He is 37 yards rushing shy of tying Wilbert Montgomery's single-season franchise record (1,513 in 1979). McCoy is trying to be the first Eagle to lead the league in rushing since Steve Van Buren in 1949.
Foles will look to add to touchdown total with receivers DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper and tight end Brent Celek. Rookie TE Zach Ertz has been more involved in recent weeks, too.
Garrett's job could be on the line Sunday because patience is running thin with this team's inability to consistently reach the playoffs and dominate the division. Garrett was bailed out by a hobbling Romo and a consistent Murray in Sunday's come-from-behind win at Washington.
But now Romo will be a spectator during Dallas' run toward the playoffs.
The Cowboys have the advantage of playing at home, but it didn't work out in their favor two weeks ago versus the Packers and also in an exciting loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Orton could shock the football world by keeping it simple and letting his playmakers do the talking.
As for the Eagles, they exceeded expectations this season and laid the foundation for a promising future under Kelly. Just don't tell him that.
"The playoffs just start a week early for both teams," Kelly said. "If you win, you get an opportunity to keep playing. If you lose, you're going home. This is really just the first week of the playoffs."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 23, Eagles 17
12/27 14:31:35 ET
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