And so, appropriately, it all comes down to beating the Dallas Cowboys.
These frustrating 2018 Eagles stalled from the start with a Super Bowl hangover and Carson Wentz in rehab, reeled through late-game collapses and costly injuries. Even their victories have sometimes felt like ordeals.
And yet with back-to-back home wins over the Giants and Skins – the Little Sisters of the East – the Eagles battled their way back to 6-6 and earned a puncher’s chance of defending their title. All they have to do now is travel to North Texas this Sunday and kick the loathsome Cowboys.
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The geeky math, if you trust the numbers, projects that an Eagles win next Sunday gives them a 48 percent chance of taking the division and 57 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
Lose to Dallas and those odds fall to a one percent chance of winning the East, and an eight percent chance of sniffing the post-season. In other words, the fans could really start focusing on their holiday shopping lists.
Hey, the whole thing looks daunting – I’ll concede that – especially if you look at both teams’ results against the Saints in recent weeks. The Cowboys defense is formidable. Zeke Elliott gashed the Birds’ defense for 151 rushing yards just a month ago.
Given that, I’m surprised the betting line opened Tuesday morning showing Dallas as just a four-point favorite at home.
Or maybe I’m not. I’ve witnessed enough matchups between these enemies to know that whatever seems logical on paper is often shredded once the game begins. I recall the opener in Andy Reid’s second season, when the Cowboys opened as a 6.5-point favorite, only to see the good guys stomp on their star by a 41-13 score. That game marked the onset of a great era of Eagles football.
Likewise, I was there four years ago when a 9-4 Chip Kelly squad trotted onto the Linc as a home favorite and unraveled against Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, losing 38-27 and blowing a chance at the playoffs.
That star-crossed history is what makes this one so good. Let’s be honest, no franchise in any sport draws our venom like the Cowboys. Fools may have dubbed them America’s Team. But in our town, where America really started, they are Hell’s Team. They will always be known to us as the Damn Cowboys, the Stinkin’ Cowboys, the Bleeping Cowboys.
One of their alum, Jason Witten, did a fine job of stoking Eagles fans’ hatred Monday night. Now an inept color announcer for ESPN, Witten managed to bring up "Snowballs at Santa" twice in the game’s first 10 minutes. No matter, that the episode occurred 50 years ago and that the buffoonish Witten got the essential facts wrong – it all just adds to the mix.
Of course, Eagle players will avoid creating bulletin board material this week. Wentz – who played a solid game Monday other than a foolish end-zone interception – said afterward, "Dallas has a great defense; they make things tough for you. So the way we are finally starting to mesh on offense, it’s going to be big for us going down there."
The Eagles are, indeed, meshing on offense. Golden Tate had seven catches on seven targets Monday night. Josh Adams has quickly become a weapon. Darren Sproles and Corey Clement seem to have overcome injuries.
And of course, Zach Ertz is having a season for the ages. With four games to go, he has 93 receptions – putting him 18 from breaking Witten’s NFL mark for tight ends. My God, it will be a delight to see Ertz erase that bumbling gas bag from the record books.
So the Eagles go into Dallas as underdogs, with the rest of the football world likely picking against them. When was the last time we saw that scenario?