Sunday afternoon. AT&T Stadium.
The Philadelphia Eagles. The Dallas Cowboys.
A game that could decide the NFC East.
The Cowboys (7-5) might have changed the course of their season last Thursday night with a statement victory over Drew Brees and the Saints in prime time.
Dallas remains a flawed team. It has not yet solved its ills on offense, despite a four-game winning streak. But the Cowboys are a dangerous team. And with four .500-or-below teams remaining on their schedule, the rest of the division is playing catch-up.
Enter the defending champs.
Dallas can all but seal an NFC East title with a win Sunday over the Eagles (6-6). A victory would give the Cowboys a two-game lead, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker — it beat Philadelphia, 27-20, less than a month ago — with three to play.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s final three games? At the L.A. Rams (11-1). Home against Houston (9-3). At Washington (6-6).
But the Eagles looked dead as recently as last month, with poor play and locker room strife. Yet here they are.
Speaking of the Washington Redskins, Mark Sanchez shall lead them.
That exemplifies how far they have fallen in three short weeks.
From 6-3 to 6-6. From Alex Smith to Colt McCoy to the Sanchize.
Washington may stand only a game behind the first-place Dallas, but that deficit now feels nearly insurmountable with Sanchez quarterbacking the Redskins the rest of the way, beginning Sunday against the Giants.
Here are some of the other big stories around the NFC East this week:
Nothing says rivalry game like trash talk.
The Eagles, winners of two straight, are feeling good about themselves. And they’re talking. At least, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill is, Blogging the Boys’ RJ Ochoa informs us.
“Look at Dallas’ history. They always choke. So we’ll go down there and make them choke.” — Philadelphia’s Kamu Grugier-Hill
The Cowboys are feeling pretty good about themselves as well. Let’s start with LT Tyron Smith, who returned to practice Wednesday. He has missed the past two games due to a stinger, but looks to be a go on Sunday.
That bodes well for an offense that still has not hit its stride despite the significant impact WR Amari Cooper has made.
In other injury news, it does not seem like LB Sean Lee will make his return this week. Jerry Jones said that the veteran will regain his starting role over eye-popping rookie Leighton Vander Esch when he does return. But Lee did not practice Wednesday.
Want to know how the Cowboys turned it around, going from 3-5 and coach Jason Garrett on the hot seat to first place? Tom Ryle’s in-depth analysis on what the Dallas front office got right makes it clear that the turnaround began long before the season started.
And a parting shot: How does Ezekiel Elliott’s $21 Salvation Army donation on Thanksgiving turn into a $13,369 fine? At least he doesn’t seem concerned:
”It’s all for a good cause, and we’re trying to bring awareness to the Salvation Army. And if the NFL doesn’t like that, then, I mean, that’s on them. I’ll pay their little fine.”
The Eagles could return some important pieces for their showdown with Dallas.
They had only a walk-through Wednesday because they played on Monday night, so they listed an estimated injury report. It said Jordan Hicks, Timmy Jernigan, Avonte Maddox, Jalen Mills and Jason Peters did not participate.
However, coach Doug Pederson made it sound as if all but Mills have a shot to play Sunday, writes Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton.
On Monday night, Philly finally found a way to implement Pro Bowl WR Golden Tate, who caught seven receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown, despite playing only 48% of the Eagles’ snaps, according to Gowton.
Can it continue? It very well might have to if the Eagles want to defend their title. But Tate, Jason Witten’s man-crush Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor still make for an impressive and dangerous receiving corps.
One more quality Gowton read: The Iggles go to Dallas as underdogs, a role they’re comfortable with — and one they just may relish.
I would start with the good news … but there isn’t any right now.
But meet the new backup quarterback, Josh Johnson. (Seriously, get to know him. At this rate, he might be starting next week.)
He becomes the emergency quarterback behind the emergency-quarterback-turned-starter, Sanchez.
Johnson played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, coach Jay Gruden’s final year with the Bucs as an offensive assistant. Familiarity with the offensive scheme was the key factor in the decision, as it was with Sanchez, the team says.
Besides losing McCoy last week, possibly for the rest of the season, Washington also lost OLB Ryan Anderson (hamstring injury) for at least a week, writes Hog Haven’s Scott Jennings. It signed former Philadelphia first-round pick OLB Marcus Smith II. He recorded 6.5 sacks combined in three seasons in Philadelphia and one in Seattle.
Meanwhile, LG Jonathan Cooper (torn biceps) is also done for the season, and RG Tony Bergstrom (high-ankle sprain) will miss a few weeks. Ty Nsekhe and Luke Bowanko replaced them Monday night.
This, of course, is after they lost starting guards Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff earlier in the season.
The Redskins also placed Quinton Dunbar and Trey Quinn on injured reserve, Jennings writes.
If you can bear it, Gruden addressed the replacements for the replacements on the offensive line and why the Redskins signed Johnson.