Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys
Monday December 30, 01:30
Live on Channel 4
So it all comes down to this. A winner-takes-it-all knockout for the NFC East and probable third seeding in this conference for the postseason. In other words, the play-offs are essentially starting a week early for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
Amazing to think that a 9-7 record could win this division for the Cowboys. Yet such is the nature of this hotly contested four-horse race that it often appears to these tense tie-breakers at the year's end.
Dallas, of course, have a nasty habit of choking on the big occasion in recent campaigns. Tony Romo has taken a lot of heat for some eleventh-hour meltdowns but the truth is that this multi-million-dollar man has been living up to his price tag this term (throwing for over 3,800 yards for 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions). He even proved his last-minute nerve last Sunday, connecting with DeMarco Murray for a do-or-die 4th-and-10 conversion.
That performance from Romo now looks all the more commendable because it has since emerged that the quarterback suffered a back injury during the fourth quarter. The severity of the damage initially suggested that Romo would miss this must-win match. However, head coach Jason Garrett subsequently revealed that doctors had administered some pain-relieving injections into his main man and Romo could yet be cleared to play.
Such hopes, though, finally died on Friday night when Romo went under the knife, leaving the Cowboys' fate in the hands of back-up QB in Kyle Orton. The ex-Denver player last started under center in 2011 and has tossed just 15 balls in anger as Romo's backup over the past two years. Orton may be capable and experienced (hence why he is one of the best-paid super subs in the league) but he is safe rather than spectacular. And Dallas need more of the latter quality if they are to keep pace with the free-scoring offense of Chip Kelly's elastic creation.
Having tipped up Philly at 5.85/1 for the NFC East, I'm not about to desert them now, even at Cowboys Stadium. Although I expected Kelly to find the key to unlocking their attacking flair, I must admit that I never saw the rapid rise of Nick Foles materialising so soon. Foles took over from the injury-prone Michael Vick and has not looked back since getting the gig as starter.
Foles' breakout season has already produced QB Ratings which rank alongside the best of all-time and while it would be premature to get carried away with his ability, he is not slowing down. Last week he added another 230 yards, connecting with 21 of his 25 passes (a 84% completion level of which even Peyton Manning would be proud). In just nine starts, Foles has only given up two picks (for a staggering 25 TDs) and is clearly benefitting from a range of possible receivers (most notably DeSean Jackson) and the irrepressible ground gains of LeSean McCoy. The running back leads the NFL in rushing (another 133 against Chicago) and adds a balance to the Eagles offense which allows Foles to mix it up, even work the clock if necessary.
The decaying defense of Dallas (which has struggled to hold second-choice QBs from Green Bay and Washington of late) is at risk of being ripped apart. True, Philadelphia failed to capitalise against mediocre Minnesota (sans AP) in mid-December, but that misfire now seems like the wake-up call which recalibrated Foles' sights.
Over on their own D, Philly have also exceeded expectations. Their strength appears to reside in a formidable front row that have at least made opponents take to the air to exploit an erratic secondary. Although they have allowed some tall totals, only Seattle's daunting defense has registered more games conceding 21 points or fewer. When they're good, they're very good.
Dallas, on the other hand, will struggle to cope with the oh-so-physical four they face at the line of scrimmage. The Romo bombshell has at last detonated and with their talisman now out, this smells of another curtain-falling stumble for the 'Boys. The divisional crown should go to the Eagles who could then soar to greater heights in the play-offs.
Back Philadelphia Eagles to beat Dallas Cowboys on Moneyline @ 1.434/9 or better
Back Philadelphia Eagles (-4) to beat Dallas Cowboys on Match Handicap @ 1.664/6 or better
Back Philadelphia Eagles to beat Dallas Cowboys on First Half Moneyline @ 1.664/6 or better
Back Over 31.5 Philadelphia Eagles Total Points @ 2.01/1 or better