Some of the shine was taken off this game when Jalen Hurts injured his throwing shoulder last week, but the Eagles-Cowboys matchup Saturday in Arlington, Texas, is still the unquestioned marquee matchup of Week 16.
Hurts or no Hurts, there’s still a lot on the line in this NFC East showdown between the Eagles (13-1) and the Cowboys (10-4).
The Eagles, with a win, can clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. That would guarantee them a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The last time they played two postseason games at Lincoln Financial Field was 2017.
The Eagles have already tied their single-season record with 13 wins. They did it in 2004 when they lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl XXXIX in 2017 when they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl LII.
The Cowboys, who last week blew a 27-10 lead and lost to the Jaguars, are in an odd spot in that they’re highly unlikely to overtake the Eagles for the top spot in the division, yet also not likely to be caught by the Giants (8-5-1) behind them.
So, with Dallas virtually locked into the fifth seed with three games remaining, the Cowboys are all about trying to build momentum for the postseason.
“I’ve been the one seed and [been] knocked on my [butt] and won it from the fifth seed,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy told reporters this week.
While McCarthy was coach of the Packers, his teams lost in the divisional round as the No. 1 in 2011 and last year. They won Super Bowl XLV as the fifth seed following the 2010 season.
“We’ve just got to keep our head down and keep working,” he said, “and we’ll react properly to this.’’
The Cowboys’ loss to the Jaguars was damaging in that a win would have added significance to this game in terms of the division title. If the Cowboys were 11-3 entering this game, there would be a lot more pressure on the Eagles — particularly without Hurts.
Hurts was injured on a hard tackle last Sunday in a win at Chicago. Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni on Thursday told reporters, “It’s looking like it’s going to be Gardner,” referring to backup Minshew Gardner, for the Dallas game.
“Gardner is going to be our guy,” Sirianni said. “He’s ready to go.”
Sirianni said Hurts is “disappointed because he wants to play,’’ adding, “He’s the toughest guy I know. We have to do what’s best as an organization to put him in a safe spot.”
There’s no need to play Hurts and risk further injury in a game the Eagles don’t absolutely need to win. Hurts not playing, though, could negatively impact his chances to win the league’s MVP, for which he’s a favorite.
His 35 offensive touchdowns this season — 22 passing along with 3,472 yards and 13 rushing along with 747 yards — is tied for the franchise record set by Randall Cunningham in 1990.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Eagles, if they defeat Dallas and clinch the No. 1 seed, do with Hurts for the final two regular-season games — rest him for the postseason or try to keep him sharp.
Minshew played last season when Hurts suffered an ankle injury and missed a game against the Jets — he went 20-for-25 for 242 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-18 win.
It has been an emotional week for Minshew, who was in Mississippi on Tuesday to speak at the funeral service for former college coach Mike Leach. Minshew missed the walk-through Tuesday, but was back at the Eagles’ facility on Wednesday.
Sirianni has tried to keep Minshew sharp during the season by running the second team in drills against the first-team defense and having him lead 7-on-7 drills at the end of each practice.
Eagles receiver A.J. Brown is coming off a game against the Bears in which he had nine catches for a career-high 181 yards. DeVonta Smith had five catches for 126 yards at Chicago.
The Eagles, who placed a league-high eight players on the NFC Pro Bowl rosters, are not all about the quarterback and the passing game. Their defense enters this game having recorded at least six sacks in three consecutive games. Javon Hargrave has a career-high 10 sacks, the most by an Eagles defensive tackle since Fletcher Cox in 2018 (10.5).
The Cowboys enter the game with key injuries of their own. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch left the Jacksonville game with a neck injury and defensive end Dorance Armstrong was sidelined by a knee injury. Dallas is already without starting cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis for the rest of the season.
The Cowboys gave up a staggering 339 yards in the second half against the Jaguars last week — the second most their defense ha allowed after halftime since at least 1991.
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