Eagles vs. Cowboys
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Eagles favored by 5; over/under 43 (as of Friday)
The Eagles are favored in Week 17 because it means absolutely nothing to the Cowboys. At 13-2, Dallas has already locked up the top seed in the NFC and homefield advantage until the Super Bowl.
Will Cowboys starters sit?
Dallas has little reason to risk injuries for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, any of the offensive linemen or important defensive players like Sean Lee. That doesn't mean they'll all sit, but if they play it likely won't be for the whole game. It will probably resemble a preseason game for the Cowboys.
But Prescott and Eliott want to play. Keep in mind the Cowboys, with the first-round playoff bye, won't be playing next weekend. Sitting two full weeks could mess up Dallas' timing.
"We're trying to stay sharp, trying to have a sharp edge every week so we can go into this playoffs like a high-octane machine," MVP frontrunner Elliott told the Dallas Morning News this week. "We're not taking weeks off. We're not looking at it as games that aren't meaningful. Every game we play is meaningful."
The Cowboys don't want a repeat of 2007, when they went 13-3 and were one-and-done in the playoffs. This is a team that hasn't made it past the Divisional Round since 1995, its last Super Bowl year.
There's been some back-and-forth reporting this week, but the latest from ESPN's Adam Schefter is that Tony Romo will play Sunday for the first time all season, though third-stringer Mark Sanchez will play as well.
Wentz makes it through
Carson Wentz injured his ribs in the only preseason game in which he played, so when he was named the Eagles' starter just before the season — for a team that knew it was going to lose its best offensive lineman to suspension — many wondered if he'd make it through his rookie year healthy.
This has not been a seamless transition to the NFL for Wentz. He dazzled early but has been mistake-prone since Week 7, with seven TDs and 13 interceptions.
Still, we all know Wentz's numbers would be better if he had a better supporting cast. And he's proven this year that even with little help around him, he can be a serviceable NFL quarterback. He's going to end the year with around 3,800 passing yards.
Wentz is already a better quarterback than that bottom tier of starters — which includes anyone who's played QB for the Bears, Browns, Rams, Jets or 49ers, plus guys like Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. You could argue Wentz is better right now than (or extremely close to) Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.
There's a lot to like. The goal for Wentz in this game should be to end it healthy and avoid turning the ball over for the first time since Week 10 against Atlanta.
Wentz had one of his best games of the year when he faced the Cowboys in Week 8 in Dallas, going 32 for 43 for 202 yards and a TD. Many think the Eagles should have won that game, a 29-23 overtime loss. Had they won, think about how many things would be different right now. The NFC East race might be extremely tight. Wentz's confidence might have grown and perhaps he would be closer to Rookie of the Year than Prescott or Elliott.
Strong finish for skill guys
Knowing this game changes nothing for the Eagles — not playoff positioning, not their draft pick — they could experiment with different things in the season finale. This would seem like a good time to feed Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham even if they're not wide open or the best read on the play.
Wentz has targeted his tight ends a ton the last few weeks because Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are often the skill players most capable of quickly gaining separation. But if Agholor and DGB are going to be here another year or two (or longer), the Eagles should try to see what their ceiling on a Sunday is.
Why not target Green-Beckham 10 times, as long as he's not being beaten by the cornerback on every route? DGB has drawn more than five targets only four times all year. Two of those games resulted in his only two touchdowns, while another was his high watermark of the season with 82 yards.
The Eagles know what they have in Ertz and Jordan Matthews, who may not play after missing practice all week with that nagging ankle injury. They still have no idea what they have in Agholor and Green-Beckham.
Prepare for whoever
Jim Schwartz said this week that game planning will be more challenging than usual because the Eagles are preparing to face any of Prescott, Romo and Sanchez.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that playing Romo isn't worth the risk. That's a sensible decision because Romo has been brittle for years now and another injury would cripple his already low trade value. If Romo does play, it probably won't be for the whole game.
If the Eagles face Sanchez, it should be a strong game for their defense. Sanchez has thrown one pass all season, and he's been a turnover machine throughout his career even when he's in a rhythm.
Plus, if Sanchez is on the field, it probably means the big guys like Elliott, Bryant and Jason Witten are not, which should make things easier on the Eagles' D.
The Eagles have been much better defensively at home, and it could mean ending the season on a high note for guys like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks and the safeties.
Is Elliott the MVP?
A lot of people have spent weeks diminishing Elliott's accomplishments because he has so much talent around him. He does. He has the best offensive line in the NFL. He plays with a QB who protects the ball and pass-catchers with all types of skills.
To me, he's still the MVP. This team is not close to 13-2 without him.
Some have made the argument that anyone who's run behind Dallas' O-line the last few years has succeeded. That's true, but it's in relative terms. Elliott has 1,994 yards from scrimmage and 16 total TDs this season. Is that the same thing as Darren McFadden rushing for 1,089 yards and three TDs last year for a 4-12 team? Um, no.
Let's say the Cowboys never drafted Elliott. Let's say they entered 2016 with Alfred Morris and McFadden as the main RBs. In that scenario, Dallas is probably closer to 10-5 than 13-2.
Just look at the impact Elliott makes game after game after game, changing the momentum and allowing Dallas to control the ball with powerful first-down runs and big gainers. Elliott has had at least one 20-plus-yard run in 10 games this season. He's scored in 10 games this season.
He's been consistent, durable, dynamic, and in a year with no other clear MVP frontrunners, the award should be his. Tom Brady missed four games and would have probably needed to go 12-0 to win it. David Johnson's team didn't win enough games. Le'Veon Bell's late-season push fell just short. Derek Carr got hurt. No receiver had a truly dominant year. Matt Ryan has had a heck of a season, but does anyone really think he's been so much better than other QBs to deserve the MVP?
Elliott's biggest competition for MVP might actually be Aaron Rodgers. He's led the Packers to five straight wins and can seal the NFC North with a win over the Lions Sunday. If he does so with a huge statistical game and Elliott either sits or has a modest afternoon at the Linc, Rodgers could win it.
Rodgers has surged up the odds leaderboards and is now just 3/1 to win MVP, behind only Elliott (2.25 to 1) and Ryan (2.5 to 1).
Because I don't expect the Cowboys' starters to play the entire game, I think the Eagles have a productive defensive game and get the win to finish 7-9 and 6-2 at home.
Unlike the last two seasons, winning in Week 17 wouldn't hurt the Eagles' draft positioning because they have the Vikings' pick, which looks like it'll fall around 15th.
I foresee good games from Wentz and the defense, leading to a second straight divisional win over a team that will still be playing while Wentz is back in the Midwest hunting.
Eagles 24, Cowboys 13