4:25 PM EST, FOX – Line: Cowboys -4.5, Over/Under: 47.0
Happy holidays from the good folks here at Oracle Sports, and what better way to spend Christmas Eve than with two of the most bitter of adversaries, as the Philadelphia Eagles battle the Dallas Cowboys in a crucial division showdown? Since opening weekend, there hasn’t been a more consistently stronger team than the Eagles (13-01, 1st in NFC East), who are off to their best start since 2004, which coincidentally saw them win their third NFC Championship in franchise history and appear in Super Bowl XXIV. Indeed, Philadelphia has been the class of the NFC, building a comfortable two-game lead in the conference hierarchy, while amassing a three-game advantage within the NFC East, with a win tonight over Dallas clinching their first division crown since 2019. This team has continued to grow exponentially under the watch of (Head Coach) Nick Sirianni and his staff, who once referred to his charges as a plant that required nurturing and love. Metaphors aside, this approach has paid off handsomely, with these birds flying higher than they have in years, though it’s been their ability to dominate opponents on the ground that has informed their success. Sirianni established this part of their identity midway through 2021, and this year they’re averaging a whopping 158.6 yards per game (4th Overall) on a healthy 4.8 yards per carry (8th Overall), including a league-best THIRTY rushing touchdowns, parlaying to an excellent third down percentage of 47.3% (3rd Overall) and the best red zone percentage in the NFL (73.5%). Behind one of the most physically imposing Offensive Lines, (third-year Quarterback) Jalen Hurts has become a revelation, improving by leaps and bounds as a passer, while remaining one of the league’s premier threats in the running game. (General Manager) Howie Roseman has been taking a victory lap all year long, providing his Quarterback with (Pro-Bowl Receiver) A.J. Brown in the offseason, but when this team needs to make things happen, they often do it via the run, with Hurts serving as the fulcrum; the 24-year-old has rushed for 747 yards on 4.8 yards per carry, with sixty-four first downs, the most of any Quarterback this year, while also totaling THIRTEEN rushing scores, which is also tops for any player at his position. Let’s turn back the clock and return to the last time that he faced the Cowboys and their nasty Defense to see how his ability to move the chains with his legs decided the outcome of that affair, shall we? After racing out to a commanding 20-0 lead, Dallas slowly climbed back into the contest with seventeen unanswered points of their own, making it 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. Hurts & Co responded with a 13-play, 75-yard drive that bled nearly eight minutes off the clock, keeping it on the ground for ten consecutive plays encompassing forty-six yards, before the QB found Brown for twenty-two yards downfield, and hit (fellow Receiver) DeVonta Smith for a 7-yard score to put their lead out of reach. Unfortunately, the Pro-Bowler will NOT be participating in this highly anticipated rematch due to a shoulder injury suffered in last weekend’s win at Chicago (more on this one shortly). Though it’s not deemed a serious malady, Sirainni is being understandably cautious with his Quarterback, and with that comfortable cushion in place, why wouldn’t he be? Starting in place of Hurts is (veteran Backup) Gardner Minshew, who in four seasons has started twenty-two games owning an 8-14 record (.363), completing 63.2% of his passes for an average of 200.1 yards per game on 6.09 net yards per attempt, with forty-one touchdowns opposed to just twelve interceptions, four game-winning drives, and a passer rating of 93.9. Acquired last season as an insurance policy for Hurts, Minshew (pictured below) started two games for Philly last year, leading the Eagles to a 33-18 victory over the Jets before getting the nod against the Cowboys in the season finale, a 51-26 thumping in which he completed 19-of-33 passes for just 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
When we last saw the Eagles, they may have won their fifth consecutive game, though it was far from easy as they escaped the Windy City with a 25-20 victory over the Bears. Things started slowly for the visitors, with Hurts throwing interceptions on two of his first four drives, leading to a 6-3 lead for the hosts late in the second quarter. However, Hurts eventually found his rhythm, manufacturing a 9-play, 91-yard drive, with the Quarterback breaking free for a 22-yard jaunt into the end zone to make it 10-6 at halftime. Philadelphia would start the second half exactly how they finished the previous one, marching forty-two yards downfield in six plays, with Hurts again lunging into the end zone for the score. With that said, Chicago would not go away, forcing a fumble and then cutting the deficit to four points. After turning it over on downs and missing a field goal, Philly would put the game on ice with yet another rushing touchdown from Hurts, making it a trifecta for the youngster. In the end, Sirianni’s troops managed to overcome a very uneven performance, outgaining the Bears by 173 yards despite committing three turnovers. Hurts completed 22-of-37 passes for 315 yards and a pair of picks but rushed for sixty-one yards and THREE touchdowns on seventeen carries. Brown and Smith benefitted greatly from his arm, with the former reeling in nine receptions on sixteen targets for 181 yards, while the latter hauled in five catches on eight targets for 126 yards of his own. Defensively, the Eagles did a solid job of containing the rushing threat of Justin Fields, relinquishing ninety-five yards but keeping the improved Quarterback out of the end zone entirely and sacking him on six occasions. Looking to today’s matchup, Philadelphia’s win earlier this season snapped a three-game losing streak to the Cowboys, whom they haven’t beaten in four consecutive trips to Arlington. 9-1 in their last ten games overall straight-up, this team is just 5-5 against the spread during that period, while covering the spread in just three of their last ten games away from the City of Brotherly Love. They’ve also covered just one of their last five games when getting points, matching that record in their last five trips to AT&T Stadium. Furthermore, they are a miserable 1-5 in their last six games as a road underdog between3.5 to 10 points, which is the case this afternoon. On the injury front, we know that Hurts is out of action today, but he’s not the only bird on the mend; (Safety) C.J. Gardner-Johnson and (Defensive End) Robert Quinn is also expected to be out, while (Tackle) Andre Dillard is questionable to participate due to a personal issue.
Meanwhile, one can’t help but feel a nauseating sense of deja vu in Northen Texas, where history seems to once again be repeating itself for the Cowboys (10-4, 2nd in NFC East). Despite once again looking like one of the clear contenders to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVIII, they’re showing signs of faltering down the stretch, just as they did a year ago. Last Winter, (Head Coach) Mike McCarthy’s troops were 11-4 before squandering a potential number one seed in a controversial 25-22 defeat at the Cardinals, setting up a date with the surging 49ers in the Wild Card Round, which proved fatal for the NFC East Champions. This time around, they were sitting at 9-3 and hot on the heels of the Eagles, only to barely survive a 27-23 affair with the lowly Texans, before imploding at Jacksonville in a 40-34 defeat (much more on that one in a bit). So, what in the name of Roger Staubach has happened in Big D, you ask? Well, when this team is rolling, they can be nigh impossible to stop on both sides of the football, but there are times when they simply can’t get out of their own way and become their own worst enemy. Case in point, in these last two games, they’ve 830 total yards and despite forcing five turnovers have committed five of their own, the last of which was returned for the walk-off touchdown in overtime against the Jaguars. (Pro-Bowl Quarterback) Dak Prescott has oftentimes served as the barometer for their success, meaning that when he plays well, the Cowboys can go toe-to-toe with damn near anybody, but when he struggles, they have had a hard time escaping the worst teams in the NFL. We’ve seen this before from the 29-year-old, who after suffering a knee injury midway through the 2021 campaign looked like a shell of himself for much of the season’s second half. Since a dominant 40-3 rout of the Vikings on the road, Prescott (pictured below) has may have completed a stellar 68.2% of his passes for an average of 242.8 yards on 7.33 net yards per attempt and seven touchdowns but has thrown SEVEN interceptions and fumbled twice in the last four games, including a pair of picks in each of the last two outings. Perhaps an encounter with the Eagles will help him correct course, for the last time that he saw his bitter rivals, that aforementioned 51-26 drubbing at Lincoln Financial Field, he carved them up for 295 yards and a career high FIVE passing touchdowns. In ten career meetings, Prescott has fared well against the birds, winning seven meetings and completing 66.5% of his passes for an average of 241.0 yards on 6.99 net yards per attempt with nineteen total touchdowns and ten total turnovers. Then there is the Defense. (Defensive Coordinator) Dan Stevens has done a TREMENDOUS job helming this unit, creating a wealth of havoc in many games over the last two seasons with a ridiculous SIXTY over the last two seasons. However, this is a smaller group that relies on their quickness, speed, and athleticism to make things happen, though they can be susceptible to bigger, more physical units that can impose their will on them, which was the case in that previous meeting with the Eagles. On that day, Dallas yielded 136 rushing yards and lost the time of possession battle (25:30) and are a mediocre 3-4 when giving up 130+ yards on the ground. Again, this was the case in last weekend’s collapse at Jacksonville, which really was a calamity of efforts for McCarthy’s charges, which we’re going to dive deep into in three… two… one…
When we last saw the Cowboys, the issues that plagued them in the previous week at Houston persisted in their trip to Northern Florida, where the Jaguars stunned them in overtime of a 40-36 loss. There were numerous points of this affair in which Dallas looked like they were going to run away with the victory, racing out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, building a 21-7 advantage at halftime, and then extending their margin to 27-10 midway through the third period. However, Jacksonville fought back time and time again, overcoming their own mistakes to string together three consecutive touchdowns on as many drives midway through the second half. Meanwhile, apart from a mammoth 13-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up over seven minutes of the fourth quarter, Prescott & Co could muster just seventy-two total yards, two field goals, a pair of punts, and an interception of Prescott in the second half, with the hosts forcing overtime with a 48-yard field goal. While the Jags would win the toss and possession, they couldn’t do much with it, punting the pigskin away to the Cowboys, who set up shop from their own 20-yard line. Unfortunately, they could move no further than midfield, where Prescott was picked off for the second time of the day by Rayshawn Jenkins, with the Safety calling game with the walk-off pick-6. In the end, Dallas put up 397 total yards on twenty-four first downs, rushing for 154 yards on forty-one carries, while converting 9-of-16 third downs. However, those two interceptions were detrimental to their cause, spoiling an otherwise solid performance from Dak, who completed an efficient 23-of-30 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns. The Backfield tandem of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard accounted for 177 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, while (Sophomore Receiver) CeeDee Lamb went off for 127 yards on seven catches, with the unsung Noah Brown hauling in two scores on six receptions. The problem here though was Quinn’s Defense, which was torched for a season-worst 503 total yards, including 192 of the rushing variety and another 318 yards and FOUR touchdowns courtesy of Trevor Lawrence. Jacksonville had little trouble moving the football throughout the afternoon, converting 8-of-12 third downs, and had it not been for three turnovers of their own, may have won this one going away. Looking to tonight’s matchup, the Cowboys have handled the Eagles well of late, winning seven of the last ten meetings, including each of the last four contested in Arlington. Dallas is 5-5 against the spread over their last ten games overall, matching that record in their last ten games at AT&T Stadium. 7-3 against the spread in their last ten encounters with the Eagles, they’ve covered three straight games at home in this series. Furthermore, this team has often responded well when following a loss, covering five consecutive contests following a straight-up loss, while matching that mark after giving up thirty or more points, which is the case this afternoon. On the injury front, McCarthy has his hands full with injuries of his own, with the likes of (Defensive End) Dorance Armstrong, (Pro-Bowl Cornerback) Trevon Diggs, and (Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner) Micah Parsons all questionable with various ailments, though (Defensive End) Demarcus Lawrence, (Safety) Jayron Kearse, and the aforementioned Brown are probable to take the field.