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NFL Week 16 – Sunday Night Football – Sunday, December 29th, 2013 TV: NBC 8:30 EDT
The Eagles head to Cowboys Stadium take on Dallas in a game that will decide the NFC East Champion. This stakes are high, but simple, win and make the postseason or lose and your season is over.
These two teams face each other once already in Philadelphia this season. The Cowboys held the Eagles to just three points in that contest, a 17-3 win on October 20th. It was Dallas’ lowest point total of the season.
The biggest news coming into this game is quarterback Tony Romo’s back surgery. He will miss this game and the rest of the postseason. His status for the start of training camp in 2014 is also still up in the air. Instead, backup Kyle Orton will take the reins as the journeyman QB’s first start of the season comes with everything on the line.
The Cowboys barely got a win last week against at Washington 24-23, pushing their record to 8-7. The offense unquestionably takes a hit with Orton as the starter, but he has not been shy when throwing downfield and I think he will do an admirable, but not exceptional job of leading this offense. Dallas would be wise to lean on DeMarco Murray in this one. The running back has run for over 600 yards and six touchdowns in his last week six games.
On defense, the Cowboys boast one of the league’s worst units. Dead-last against the run and not much better against the pass, Dallas have not been able to stop even the most inept NFL offenses. Linebacker Sean Lee will remain sidelined in this game, but they will get starting cornerback Morris Claiborne back from injury.
Their rush defense is especially vulnerable against the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy. McCoy leads the league in rushing and had a strong game last Sunday against the Bears, rushing for 133 yards and two touchdowns in a 54-11 blowout of Chicago. Foles should have no issues putting up decent numbers either, especially against Dallas’ 31st ranked pass defense.
Though they Eagles were stout defensively in last week’s win over Chicago, they gave up over 40 points to a terrible Minnesota team two weeks ago. Their defensive efforts have been hit or miss, but they have been stronger against the run, rather than the pass. Their pass rush continues to improve as they head into the playoffs, as well.
After opening at Dallas +1, the news of Romo’s injury knocked the game off the board and shifted the line to +7 when it reopened. The total has come down as well, surely based on a Cowboys’ offense led by Orton projected to be less productive. After opening at 55.5, the number is between 52.5 and 53.5 depending on the book.
Many bettors have called Romo’s injury a “blessing in disguise” because of Tony Romo’s poor record in crucial games. This is nonsense. While he certainly is not what you would call a “clutch” quarterback, he has been one of the best in the league this season statistically. Dallas’ problems are vast, but Romo is the least of their issues. Their defense is absolutely terrible. Wide receiver Dez Bryant is a head case who decided to walk off the field before the game ended last week. No one seems to know what head coach Jason Garrett is truly thinking, and the list goes on and on.
DeMarco Murray and the Dallas offensive line has been a bright spot, but that only works if they can stop the Eagles offense, which I do not think they can. LeSean McCoy’s quick cuts and edge speed are a matchup nightmare for a terrible Dallas’ front seven, and he alone could win this game for Philadelphia. Foles did not play well last time these teams met, but he is a different player now who is no longer looking over his shoulder worried about losing his job to Michael Vick.
There are too many strikes against Dallas for me to consider them in this game, despite the attractive +7 number at home. Philly will get their points offensively, and I can’t see this offense matching them or being able to run the ball effectively enough to keep Chip Kelly’s high scoring unit from doing too much damage. Philadelphia takes this one on the road and punches their ticket to the postseason.
Pick: Eagles -7 at www.bovada.lv
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