By Patrick Del Gaone, Sports Talk Philly staff writer
Since opening as 6.5-point favorites over the Cowboys, the line for tomorrow's glorified exhibition has shrunk to Philadelphia -4.5. Per Vegas Insider, 57 percent of betting slips have been cast on the 13-2 Cowboys as of Saturday morning.
With one game remaining before Philadelphia's offseason begins, let's dive into the latest edition of the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry.
Cowboys’ Offense vs. Eagles’ Defense
On Friday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on the Cowboys intentions to play quarterback Tony Romo in Sunday’s regular season finale. However, the veteran is only expected to play “a series or two,” per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. With starter Dak Prescott expected to begin the game and also play for just a short while, former Eagle Mark Sanchez is likely to be the primary signal-caller for the Cowboys on New Year’s Day.
Sanchez is a serviceable backup, but has become increasingly mistake-prone as his career progressed. He’ll undoubtedly be highly motivated to perform well against his former teammates, all the while hoping to prove to NFL teams that he’s worthy of an opportunity heading into 2017, but the task will be monumental surrounded by fellow backups against an Eagles’ unit which has suffocated juggernaut offenses such as Atlanta and Pittsburgh at “The Linc” in 2016.
In 7 home games, Jim Schwartz’s unit is allowing a minuscule 15.8 points per game, although they’ve been less formidable of late, surrendering over 24 points per contest in their last three South Philly showdowns.
Cowboys’ superstar left tackle Tyron Smith will sit this weekend after suffering an MCL sprain in last week’s blowout win over Detroit. Backup Emmett Cleary will be protecting the blindside of the Cowboys' various signal-callers on Sunday, an indicator that Prescott likely won’t play past the first quarter given the tenacity of Philadelphia’s front four in the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field this season.
Eagles’ Offense vs. Cowboys’ Defense
Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett’s precautionary measures heading into the playoffs aren’t limited to the team’s dynamic offense, many of his defenders will be given time constraints as well. Defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton won’t play on Sunday, nor will DE Demarcus Lawrence. Former Penn State and current Cowboys’ linebacker Sean Lee, an integral cog in the unit, stated that he’ll play on Sunday despite an extensive injury history. Look for Lee and the rest of the Dallas starters to be replaced by second-stringers by the end of the first half.
Carson Wentz and the Eagles produced only 286 yards of offense against a red-hot Giants' defense last week, and were aided by a Malcolm Jenkins pick-six to give Philly a 14-0 lead just six minutes into the primetime tilt, but it was a terrific 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive by Doug Pederson’s unit on the Eagles’ opening possession that set the tone for Philadelphia’s resounding divisional victory.
Look for Pederson to once again run pint-sized playmaker Darren Sproles behind Lane Johnson early on in the hopes of eviscerating the will of a Dallas team with little to gain by winning this weekend. Johnson’s reemergence into the lineup after a 10-game suspension immensely propelled Philadelphia’s running game for 62 rushing yards on the first possession, but the ground attack only managed 56 additional yards despite leading for the remaining 54 minutes of last Thursday’s win.
Eagles’ halfback Ryan Mathews (back) will miss Sunday’s finale, and top wideout Jordan Matthews is listed as questionable with a nagging ankle injury. With the Eagles short on playmakers, Sproles should touch the ball close to 20 times on Sunday. The Cowboys have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season, and considering the Kansas State product’s versatility in the passing game, you can expect to see Sproles sent out on a wide variety of routes in a game plan centered around the 33-year-old.
Matchup to Watch: Cowboys’ LT Emmett Cleary vs. Eagles’ DE Connor Barwin
Player of the Game: Darren Sproles
Prediction: Eagles win 20-10