The Eagles need a better performance than last week, but don't expect Nick Foles and the starters to play the entire game. Foles will start and coach Doug Pederson will hope the offense can generate some early momentum. If the starters play well early, they could give way quickly to Nate Sudfeld and the backups.
The offense must do better on third downs. It went 1 of 14 on third down last week. It was 5 of 14 in the first meeting against the Cowboys. Dallas is 30th in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 44.2 percent of the time.
Foles must complete more passes to wide receivers. Only five of Foles' 19 completions last week went to wide receivers, and No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery didn't make a catch. Foles will try to connect with his wideouts against the NFL's 13th-ranked pass defense. The Cowboys allow 218.4 passing yards per game. They will not have cornerback Orlando Scandrick, so rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis will be assigned to cover the Eagles' receivers. But they could end up spending most of their time guarding reserves such as rookies Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson, who might play a bigger role in the second half.
The Eagles were held to fewer than 4 yards per carry last week while totaling only 78 yards on the ground. They had 215 rushing yards in the first game against Dallas, well above the 106.3 rushing yards the Cowboys allow per game. The Eagles could rush behind Stefen Wisniewski early in the game; the left guard is expected to play after missing two games with an ankle injury. The Cowboys defense is led by Sean Lee, a Penn State product who is annually one of the Eagles' toughest opponents.
When the reserves enter the game, keep an eye on Sudfeld. The second-year quarterback has looked good in practice in recent weeks, but he has not taken a snap in an Eagles uniform. The Eagles could try Isaac Seumalo at center for the first time in his Eagles career when Sudfeld is in the game.
The Cowboys offense totaled only 225 yards in the first meeting against the Eagles, but it has star running back Ezekiel Elliott back for this game. Elliott needs 120 yards to reach 1,000 yards in his 10th game of the season. The Eagles haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher yet this season. They have the No. 1 rush defense even though they allowed a season-high 137 yards last week and have allowed more than 100 rushing yards in three of the last four weeks. Unless Elliott has a historic performance, the Eagles should keep that No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1991.
The Eagles could pull some starting defenders early in the game – especially top defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who doesn't have a special-teams role. Defensive end Brandon Graham is out, and Chris Long could step into the starting lineup. First-round pick Derek Barnett could also play a bigger role. At linebacker, veteran Dannell Ellerbe is now the starter in the base defense. Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks have been reliable linebackers in most packages, but they could try reserves such as rookie Nate Gerry in the second half.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott exited the Week 17 game against the Eagles early last season when the Cowboys had the top seed clinched, but he could be on the other end of it Sunday, when he's completing passes against a backup defense. Prescott's sophomore season has not been as good as his rookie year, although he'll try to avenge a season-low 30.4 quarterback rating against the Eagles in November. Top receiver Dez Bryant voiced frustration with the offense leading up to this game. Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills is questionable with an ankle injury, and the Eagles could go to their reserves during the game. Rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas could see extended action and Sidney Jones is expected to make his NFL debut.
The Eagles have 13 wins, which matches a franchise record set in 2004. A win Sunday would give the Eagles their first 14-win season. The Eagles can also finish undefeated at home with a win. These are all points of pride for the team, although getting to the playoffs healthy should take priority. "They'd go down in the record books as being that, a great team in Eagles history," Pederson said. "That's something that I've mentioned. It's not the motivating factor, obviously, but it's something we talk about."
Zach Berman: Cowboys 23, Eagles 17
Jeff McLane: Eagles 27, Cowboys 24
Les Bowen: Eagles 28, Cowboys 24