Ralph Vacchiano NFC East Reporter For weeks this looked like it would be the game of the year in the NFC, right up until the Dallas Cowboys’ stunning overtime loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Then, two days later, came the news that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts might not even play due to a right shoulder sprain.So now the Eagles (13-1) lead the Cowboys (10-4) by three games with three to play, meaning this game will mean little to the final standings. And the Eagles could be without their starting quarterback when the teams battle in Dallas on Saturday afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET on FOX).Is this game still a big deal?”Against Dallas? On Christmas Eve?” Eagles coach Nick SIrianni said in a radio interview on Tuesday. “Come on now. You know it is.”It may not be the Christmas Eve showdown everyone envisioned, but the stakes are always high when the Eagles and Cowboys play, especially this late in the season. And there are still actual stakes, too. The Eagles may be close to locking up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they haven’t clinched it yet.And the Cowboys are still trying to lock down the fifth seed, too. They also need to shake off the shocking loss to the Jaguars, which ended on a 52-yard pick-six by Jacksonville safety Rayshawn Jenkins on Dak Prescott’s first pass of overtime.”We’ll keep working,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy promised. “And we’ll react properly to this.”They had better, because there’s another reason this game is still important: This could be an NFC Championship Game preview, which means this game could set the tone for when they meet again.Here’s a closer look at what might be the two best teams in the NFC:QUARTERBACKSIf Hurts plays, this is a much more interesting comparison. He’s been a top MVP candidate all season as the best dual-threat quarterback in the league, with a ridiculous 35 touchdowns — 22 passing and 13 rushing. Prescott, meanwhile, has ignited the Cowboys offense since returning from a thumb injury with 17 touchdown passes in eight games.Prescott, though, has become oddly interception-prone lately with seven interceptions in his past four starts. That’s something to watch against a tough Eagles secondary that leads the NFL with 15 interceptions. He’d still have the edge over Gardner Minshew if the Eagles backup quarterback starts. But give Hurts the edge if he plays since he has turned the ball over only seven times all season.PASSING GAMEThe Cowboys tend to lean on their passing game a little more than the Eagles do, but the truth is both attacks are potent. The Eagles have more diversity with a receiving corps that includes A.J. Brown (74 catches, 1,201 yards, 10 touchdowns), DeVonta Smith (71-901-5) and tight end Dallas Goedert (44-544-3 in nine games). The Cowboys have been desperate to find someone to help WR1 CeeDee Lamb (81-1,087-6), which is why they signed veteran T.Y. Hilton and continue to flirt with Odell Beckham Jr.The Cowboys have averaged 243.5 passing yards per game since Prescott returned. The Eagles average 235.5, thought Hurts has topped 300 passing yards twice in the past three games. If Minshew plays, figure the Eagles will rely a lot more on the run.RUNNING GAMEThis is, quite simply, the bread and butter for both teams. They both run the ball well and by riding multiple options. Both have strong runners and powerful offensive lines, so really, just take your pick.The Eagles average 158.6 rushing yards per game. Hurts (156-737-13) is a huge factor in that, but Miles Sanders is among the NFL’s rushing leaders with 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns.As for the Cowboys, there might not be a better 1-2 running back punch in the league than Ezekiel Elliott (188-774-10) and Tony Pollard (177-967-9). And they’ve been on fire the past seven weeks, averaging 168.6 yards on the ground.DEFENSEBoth defenses have championship elements. They rank 1-2 in takeaways (the Cowboys have 26, the Eagles have 25). They are 1-2 in sacks (the Eagles have 55, the Cowboys have 49). They’re both in the top 10 overall (the Eagles are second, the Cowboys are eighth). They both have dominant players on the edge (Dallas’ Micah Parsons has 13 sacks, Philly’s Haason Reddick has 12).And they both have the same flaw: Their run defense. The Eagles give up 121.1 rushing yards per game on the ground, while the Cowboys give up 133.1. It looked like the Eagles had fixed that problem until they gave up 157 rushing yards to the Bears last week. The Cowboys looked like they solved it, too, then the Jaguars ran all over them for 192 yards.That sure looks like the key for these teams: Which run defense can hold up the best against one of the best rushing attacks in the league?COACHINGMcCarthy did a brilliant job early in the season, keeping the Cowboys afloat during Prescott’s five-game absence. The fact that they went 4-1 with Cooper Rush at quarterback — with their only loss coming in a close game (26-17) in Philadelphia — was a miracle. The coach has mostly done a terrific job since then, too, though the 40-34 overtime loss in Jacksonville wasn’t the finest moment for anyone in Dallas.Who’s to blame for Cowboys’ loss to Jags?
Dave Helman does not blame Dak Prescott entirely. Helman says the Cowboys defense did not show up, allowing the Jaguars to score a season-high 40 points against the Dallas D.
Sirianni, though, has Coach of the Year credentials. He has pushed every right button with the Eagles, fixed every issue that has popped up, and kept their tone and focus perfect throughout their hot start. They have that “together” feel of a champion, they play with confidence, and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. Sirianni has been so good that it’s easy to forget he’s only in his second year running an NFL team.X-FACTORGiven the circumstances, this game won’t mean a lot to the Eagles. But to the Cowboys, it is absolutely huge. They would lock themselves into the fifth seed with a win, which means a first-round playoff game against the NFC South winner — a team that probably will finish the season with a losing record.Maybe more importantly, the Cowboys surely want to make a statement that they’re right up there with the Eagles in the NFC. Doing it at home, on national TV, one week after the Jacksonville meltdown will remind everyone — including themselves — how good they are. That should be a lot more motivation than the Eagles have going into this game.
Top stories from FOX Sports:Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano. Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more