Sunday Night Football on NBC seems to be drawing more attention than usual this week as they feature a key divisional match-up between the high flying Philadelphia Eagles and the sputtering Dallas Cowboys. Many Eagles fans start licking their chops as Dallas hate week comes around. This year proved to be no different.
Unlike previous years, Philly is coming into the match-up as favorites with an NFL best 8-1 record. The team is firing on all cylinders and remain the hottest team in football even after coming off of a bye week. Carson Wentz is a mid-season MVP favorite among fans and professional analysts, as he leads the league in touchdown passes and has had a string of highlight plays this year. He has finally developed chemistry with off-season acquisition and all pro receiver Alshon Jeffery, and the offense still has yet to give newly acquired all pro running back Jay Ajayi a full workload.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ronald Darby seems to be in line to make his return to the lineup after suffering a gruesome ankle injury in week one against the Redskins.
Darby will bring some help to the secondary which has surprisingly done very well in his absence, with some strong plays from Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and Rasul Douglas. However, the defensive line is the talk of the town.
They rank best in the league in run defense. Offseason acquisition Tim Jernigan, who just signed a new multi-year deal with Philly, has said that this is the best team he’s been a part of. Who can blame him when he’s lining up with stars like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham every week?
While everything is falling into place for Philly, their counterpart seems to be falling apart. Dallas is dealing with an array of issues coming into this match-up.
The Ezekiel Elliot suspension has finally been upheld, triggering a public feud between the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. While Dallas will be without their star running back until Week 16, an even bigger loss comes down on the team with the injury to left tackle Tyrone Smith.
Smith has been the anchor of this strong Cowboys offensive line since he was drafted in 2011.
The offensive line, unsurprisingly, did not play up to expectations last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Dak Prescott was sacked a total of eight times, six of them coming from defensive end Adrian Clayborn who broke the franchise record for most sacks in a game.
Smith’s replacements Chaz Green and Byron Bell will have their hands full once again Sunday night, as they face a terrifying Philly front seven.
No matter what the headlines read coming into this game, the bottom line is that this remains a crucial divisional contest for each team. A win for Philadelphia ultimately clinches them the NFC East division as they would have defeated each divisional opponent at least once.
A Dallas win keeps their season afloat as they would improve to 6-4 and remain a wild card contender in a very competitive NFC conference.
Even though a Philadelphia loss wouldn’t mean much, it allows Dallas to remain alive not only in the playoff race, but in the division as well. This is the last thing Eagles players and fans alike would want to see. A win for Philly improves them to 9-1 and solidifies them as the top team not only in the NFC, but in the entire league.
However, records and season trends always fly out the door when these two rivals clash each season. The last two times Philly has traveled to AT&T Stadium, better known as “Jerry’s World,” each game ended up going into overtime.
Two seasons ago, we all watched Jordan Matthews weaving his way between Dallas defenders and finding the end zone to clinch a win for the Birds; this left a sour taste in the mouths of every Cowboys fan.
Last year also ended in a nail biter as the Eagles were able to force a 6-1 Cowboys squad into OT. Unfortunately, the Philly D couldn’t get a stop as they watched rookie Phenom Dak Prescott toss a touchdown pass to Jason Witten to seal the game.
The tables have turned this season however, as Philadelphia now seems to be the superior team in the division. They are vying for the number one overall seed and home field advantage come playoff time.
It is hard to find a weakness in this Eagles team so far this season, and the flaws of the Cowboys stick out like a sore thumb. Nonetheless, this should be a competitive battle of two franchises that have despised each other since they were formed.
All eyes across the sports world will be on this divisional clash, which should be another rich chapter in the storied rivalry that is the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
Connor Sodak is a fourth-year student majoring in communications. He can be reached at CS824220@wcupa.edu.