JEFF MCLANE Record, 5-9
You know you've hit the ocean bottom when you're prediction record is worse than the Eagles'. I promised myself I wouldn't pick against an Eagles opponent after the Seattle loss and I'm sticking to it, my reputation (or what's left of it) be damned.
Honestly, I like the Cowboys in this game for the simple fact that I think it's going to be hard for the Eagles - a schizo team - to win both ends of a home and away. Plus, isn't it about time the Eagles let everyone down again? It may not get to that point if the Giants beat the Jets in the earlier game and knock the Eagles out of playoff contention.
Between the lines, Dallas seems to have put that 34-7 October embarrassment at the Eagles behind them. Tony Romo is playing at a high level, his four top receivers are as good as any foursome in the league right now and a healthy Felix Jones complements that passing attack. Jones won't be 100 percent because of a tender hamstring but as long as he can hit some early holes and establish the run Dallas' offense should be better off this time around.
That is, if Rob Ryan's defense doesn't fold like an old lawn chair, which is possible, considering the first game. But I just don't see the defensive coordinator that confounded Tom Brady earlier this season not getting to Michael Vick in at least one of two meetings. So there's that. Cowboys, 31-28.
What goes right: I keep predicting a DeSean Jackson big play touchdown and he has yet to deliver. He hits a home run here.
What goes wrong: Much of the progress Juan Castillo's defense has made the last two weeks is lost in Dallas.
There are a lot of reasons to like the Eagles in this match up. For one thing, there is the memory of the 34-7 beatdown the Eagles put on earlier this year, and the fact that Dallas’ weak secondary plays right into one of Philly’s biggest strengths. The Cowboys offense, and particularly Tony Romo, has gotten hot, but Jason Babin is playing at a level that can wreck any game plan.
The Cowboys, though, shouldn’t be counted out. Romo has a deep group of targets in Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson and Jason Witten. But Felix Jones' health is critical, because Dallas' best bet at stopping the Eagles seems to lie in ball control.
Which makes the early part of this game very important. In the first meeting the Eagles jumped ahead so fast the Cowboys had to abandon the run, and when Philly's pass rush can attack with abandon, they can be lethal. If the game is close, though, we’ve all seen what can happen late to the Eagles.
The wild card here is the early Jets-Giants game. If the Giants win, I have to believe a lot of air goes out of the eliminated Eagles, no matter how much they say they are going to play hard no matter what. A Giants loss gives both teams added motivation: a potential playoff shot for the Eagles, and a chance to clinch the division for Dallas.
I’m torn, but I’m going back to the big picture. I don’t think the Eagles team that went 4-8 to open the year is suddenly so different that they’re about to go on a four game winning streak. So, facing decent opposition with a quarterback who is playing well, I’ll take Dallas in a close game decided late. Cowboys, 30-24.
What goes right: The Eagles receivers find room against a shaky secondary.
What goes wrong: The turnover bug pops up again for the Eagles and costs them points.