By JUSTIN EINHORN, STATS Senior Editor
Having secured playoff spots certainly won’t stop the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles from going all-out to beat each other.
NFL fans may get to see the same thing next week, too.
While there’s a chance these archrivals also will square off to open the postseason, there is plenty at stake Sunday with the winner claiming the NFC East title and possibly a first-round bye.
“I look at the Philadelphia contest as a playoff game,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “It’s so meaningful to us.”
It was last year, too, when these teams met to close the regular season, with the winner getting a playoff berth and the loser going home for the winter. Philadelphia rolled to a 44-6 victory, but that game came at Lincoln Financial Field while this one will mark the Eagles’ first visit to Cowboys Stadium.
“I think we showed the December jinx is not here,” receiver Roy Williams said after Dallas clinched a playoff spot with a 17-0 win in Washington last Sunday. “Last year we were in the same situation and didn’t get it done. 2009’s a different year.”
The Cowboys (10-5) are trying to win their second division title in three years and Philadelphia (11-4) seeks its first since 2006.
If the Eagles win, they clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC and get a week to rest before beginning the playoffs. The Cowboys’ shot at the bye will be gone if Minnesota wins earlier in the day, but if the Vikings lose to the New York Giants, Dallas can get it by beating Philadelphia while Arizona loses to Green Bay.
If neither team gets the second seed, the Eagles and Cowboys very possibly would meet in the wild-card round next weekend.
“Playing for the division title is what’s going to make this a great game,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “Both teams have something at stake. That’s why we do this thing, as coaches and players, for opportunities like this. Everybody will be fired up for it.”
Reid’s team is the hottest in the NFC with a six-game winning streak, its longest in the regular season since 2004. However, Dallas has momentum, too, avoiding another December swoon by posting back-to-back wins – the first of which came at the Superdome and ended New Orleans’ unbeaten season.
“We’ve pretty much, throughout this whole season, kept it in-house, kept our goals in front of us and not really let stumbles in the road or roadblocks deter us,” defensive end Marcus Spears said. “It’s just a positive thing. It’s a positive vibe going on. Winning is the cure-all for everything.”
It’s a different vibe from last year when Dallas entered the regular-season finale having lost two of three with a slumping offense.
Tony Romo had a 67.9 passer rating last December but he’s been playing a lot better down the stretch this season, posting a 106.7 rating in the last five games. During that span, he’s completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 1,548 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception.
Romo is 40 yards shy of breaking his single-season franchise record of 4,211 set in 2007.
“You’ve seen in recent weeks, the team has really played well and Tony’s played well as well,” Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “That’s part of the difference you see on that whole ball team.”
Last year’s regular-season finale saw McNabb throw for two touchdowns and run for one in the second quarter as Philadelphia took a 27-3 halftime lead over Dallas. McNabb has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the past two weeks as the Eagles offense has stayed hot, averaging 31.2 points during the win streak.
However, Philadelphia’s lone division loss in 2009 came at home against Dallas, 20-16 on Nov. 8. While McNabb was shaky, completing 16 of 30 for 227 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, Romo went 21 of 34 for 307 yards with an INT and the go-ahead 49-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin with 8:04 to play.
Austin, who has 39 catches for 551 yards and four TDs in the last five games, was among six Cowboys named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
The Eagles also had a receiver among their six selections. DeSean Jackson has a touchdown catch in five straight games and nine for the season to go with two TDs on punt returns. But Jackson was held in check by the Cowboys in November, finishing with 38 all-purpose yards.
His presence Sunday could be a key, as could the absence of another Jackson.
Eagles center Jamaal Jackson’s streak of 71 consecutive starts will come to an end due to a torn ACL suffered in last Sunday’s 30-27 win over Denver. That leaves former right guard Nick Cole snapping the ball to McNabb, and his poor timing in that process led to one bad exchange and a false start penalty.
“Jamaal is a good football player, so I don’t want to take anything away from losing Jamaal,” Reid said. “But at the same time, we’re fortunate enough to have guys that have played in games, and big games, that we can fill in those spots.”