The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have a lot riding on Sunday’s game. Whichever team wins will likely be through to the postseason, leaving their bitter rival behind.
“This is a fun time to be playing football. It’s the best of it. As a kid, this is the time you want to play, when every inch counts,” Cowboys linebacker Malcom Smith told reporters Thursday.
The Cowboys are the undisputed king of the NFC East, winning the division 20 times since its creation in 1970 by the merger of the NFL and the American Football League. The Eagles only have half as many division wins, but eight of their ten titles came post-2000, showing their dominance in the 21st century.
With the Eagles taking the top spot in 2017 and the Cowboys following in 2018, Sunday’s face-off is another historic chapter for two of the league’s oldest franchises.
“We know the importance of this game,” said Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper. “The challenging part about that is, I’m sure Philadelphia does too.”
Doug Pederson, the Eagles head coach and former quarterback, confirmed Cooper’s suspicion Friday: “It stems, really, from the fans … when I was a player, there’s two games a year they want you to win, and that’s when you play Dallas.”
Sunday’s matchup features the 7-7 Cowboys facing the 7-7 Eagles, with major implications for the rest of the season. With a win, Dallas can clinch the division and eliminate their rivals from the playoffs. Philadelphia’s playoff stock isn’t as rock solid, due to a Week 7 loss to Dallas, but a win would put them in the driver’s seat for the postseason spot guaranteed to the division winners.
Eagles captain Malcom Jenkins is cautioning his squad not to get caught up in the whirlwind leading up to the game: “The biggest thing is to get everybody to understand it’s just a game. The cameras, the hype, the context around it makes it a big deal but when the ball’s snapped … it’s nothing different.”
For Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, the team’s goals are bigger than beating the Eagles: “The small details … more than the hype of winning the division … that’s what’s going to allow you to be successful.”
Dallas will sport a worse record than last season, but the chance to go further than last year’s loss in the divisional round of playoffs is a major motivator for the team.
Every injury counts as well, and the Cowboys have been anxiously monitoring the status of their star quarterback’s shoulder. Head coach Jason Garrett was tight-lipped about Dak Prescott’s health, only revealing: “I think rest is the best thing for him right now. I guess (his shoulder) is progressing, but he hasn’t tested it much, though.”
Prescott himself isn’t as worried about the lingering injury: “I’m getting better, it’s all improving … I’ll be ready to go Sunday.”
That’s a huge positive for Dallas fans, as backup Cooper Rush has only three in-game passing attempts, one for each of Rush’s three years in the league. Not having Prescott would be near catastrophic for Dallas, as the former Rookie of the Year has thrown for the fourth-most touchdowns this season while consistently rating as one of the league’s top passers.
On the opposite sideline, the Eagles are all set for signal-callers, as former Pro-Bowler Carson Wentz is having another solid year. Wentz, like the Cowboys, is searching for playoff success after a season-ending injury made him an accessory to the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl win.
With the playoffs on the line, Wentz is glad to be playing in the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field. “I’m really excited we’re at home. I know the fans are going to show up and be loud, and I can’t wait for Sunday afternoon.”
Watch: Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox.