The final game of Carson Wentz's rookie season comes Sunday, and he will face a Cowboys defense expected to limit some of its key players. Wentz went 32 of 43 for 202 yards in the first game against Dallas with short, quick passes. He has been held to fewer than 200 passing yards in the last two games. Wentz will become the first Eagles quarterback since Donovan McNabb in 2008 to start every game, and he's 379 yards behind McNabb's franchise record for passing yards in a season. He also needs three completions to set the NFL rookie record for completions. Wentz has thrown an interception in six consecutive games.
The offensive line will include right tackle Lane Johnson for the second consecutive week, but Wentz likely won't have left guard Allen Barbre, who is doubtful with a hamstring injury. Stefen Wisniewski will start in Barbre's place, although Isaac Seumalo is expected to get time with the offensive line. The backfield is down to Darren Sproles and Byron Marshall as the top two options. Sproles will see most of the work, but the Eagles want to see more of Marshall. The Cowboys have the NFL's best rush defense, limiting opponents to 81.5 yards per game. However, it could be different this week if the Cowboys miss key defensive players such as Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Jack Crawford, and Demarcus Lawrence - all of whom missed practice this week. Their best run stopper is linebacker Sean Lee, a Penn State product.
Wide receiver Jordan Matthews is questionable for Sunday as he fights through an ankle injury that has limited him lately. The Eagles are hoping Nelson Agholor can build off his last game, when he caught his second touchdown of the season. Look for tight end Zach Ertz to have an uptick in usage after being targeted only two times against the Giants last week. The Cowboys have only nine interceptions. Their sack leader is defensive end Benson Mayowa, who has four sacks in the last four games.
The Cowboys could play three quarterbacks on Sunday, according to reports: Dak Prescott, Tony Romo, and Mark Sanchez. It's likely that Sanchez gets most of the work, with Prescott and Romo needed most for the postseason. Sanchez, a former Eagles quarterback, has thrown only one pass this season. He would likely play without Dallas' top players, who could follow Prescott to an early exit from the game. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receiver Dez Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten would fit into that category. All three are key pieces for the Cowboys' success this season, and Dallas wouldn't want them injured in Week 17. The Cowboys played their starters last week against Detroit, and coach Jason Garrett said they would do the same Sunday, but that doesn't mean they'll be playing in the second half.
The strength of the Cowboys' offense is its line. Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith is not expected to play because of a knee injury. Emmett Cleary is expected to start in his place after taking 15 snaps in Week 16. Right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick, both Pro Bowlers, also could exit early. But the Cowboys only have seven linemen on the roster, so they can't sit everybody. Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin only has four sacks this season, but he could have more success against Cleary than he would against Smith. Any changes on the offensive line would benefit an Eagles defensive line that had no sacks last week.
The Eagles have allowed over 100 rushing yards in each of the last three games. Even if Elliott doesn't take his normal workload, backups Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, and Darren McFadden are veterans who can still hurt the Eagles defense. Other than Bryant, Cole Beasley is the Cowboys' top receiver with 72 catches for 784 yards and five touchdowns. Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are the next options in the passing game. Gavin Escobar could see more time at tight end if Witten's playing time is reduced.
9-18: That's the potential range of the first-round pick the Eagles will receive from the Minnesota Vikings. So while the Eagles are playing on Sunday, pay attention to the Vikings-Bears game. If the Vikings lose, it would be better for the Eagles. The Eagles don't own their original draft pick - it belongs to the Cleveland Browns - so their result on Sunday will only affect later-round picks. The Eagles could surrender a pick anywhere from No. 7 to No. 15 to Cleveland, depending upon their result. The draft is April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
Zach Berman: Eagles 24, Cowboys 19