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Crunching The Numbers: Dallas Cowboys

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Is it possible to drum up interest in a doubly meaningless game?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We’re onto our last regular-season edition of “Crunching The Numbers,” a weekly series in which I preview the Eagles’ upcoming game through a few select statistics. For an explanation of why I chose the statistics I analyze, as well as an archive of past articles, check out this hub.

Author’s Note: Since this week’s game is so meaningless I won’t be doing a formal game preview. Rather, I will share some thoughts about the Eagles’ upcoming trips to the playoffs. For consistency, the comparison between the Eagles and Cowboys is available at the end of this post

Game Review

In my write-up for the Raiders, I was understandably more concerned about the defense than the offense, seeing how they managed to stay on schedule against the Giants offensively but gave up over 500 yards to one of the most pitiful offenses in the league. So naturally, this game was the complete opposite. Nevertheless, let’s look at my three main points:

  1. Maintain possession for as long as possible. Go for it on fourth-and-five (or less) when inside Oakland territory.
  2. Prevent the Raiders from getting off to a hot start.
  3. Force Carr to dink-and-dunk down the field.

I was as “technically” accurate with #1, as the Eagles did convert a fourth down on the fringes of field goal territory, but they were so inept on offense for the rest of the game there were not really many other opportunities to establish a consistent pattern. #2 gets a big check, as the defense completely smothered the Raiders to the tune of 10 points and 5 turnovers. #3 was hit-and-miss, as the Eagles seemed to clamp down when they needed to, but gave up other inexcusable plays at the worst times (see: Amari Cooper’s touchdown). They were also assisted by the Raiders’ own haplessness, as several defensive stops were made easier by Oakland penalties.

Overall, my tone for game predictions didn’t match reality, as I was much more worried about a steadily collapsing defense than I was about the Nick Foles-led offense. With such Jekyll-and-Hyde performances from the team as a whole since Carson’s injury, it’s really impossible to get a bead on this team moving forward. Which begs the question...

We’re Talkin’ About Playoffs?

Yep, we’re talking about the playoffs, since the Eagles have achieved everything you can from the regular season by securing a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout January. The only thing that separates the Eagles from the Super Bowl is 120 minutes of football at Lincoln Financial Field.

As great as that sounds - and it is truly great - it’s hard to feel inspired about this team given the way they’ve played since Wentz suffered his ACL injury. The defense has either been a sieve, or the offense has failed to be effective. While they have excelled in situational football (a key component of any championship team), they have failed to play the complete games necessary to win in the playoffs.

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost, and we have a great recent example of this in the 2009 New Orleans Saints. After 14 weeks, the Saints were 13-0, widely regarded as the best team in the league, and had the inside track for the #1 seed in the playoffs (Minnesota was 2 games behind at 11-2). With meaningful football left to play, they then lost their last three games, all to conference opponents, two to divisional teams, and one to the eventual 3-13 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You cannot really “back into the playoffs” in a worse way, and they still went on to win the Super Bowl.

You can’t say that, you’re probably thinking. Look at the times the Eagles backed into the playoffs - they lost immediately! And besides, the Saints have Drew Brees, and we have Nick Foles.

Yes, I would prefer to have Drew Brees in his prime over Nick Foles right now, but that actually helps my point. The Saints always have Drew Brees. He has thrown for over 4,000 yards in twelve consecutive seasons and rarely misses playing time. So why don’t they win the Super Bowl - or even make the playoffs - every season? Because that 2009 team was the most complete team the Saints have ever had. More than the other major sports, football is really a team sport, and can you think of a more complete team the Eagles have had than this one? Of course losing your quarterback is hard to overcome, but was there any Eagles team better equipped to handle that than the 2017 version? I’m not sure if there was.

The Eagles are 13-2 right now, and they’re also 13-2 at Lincoln Financial Field since Doug Pederson took over. There are definitely legitimate concerns about how far this team will go in the playoffs, but let’s not count out a team that has scratched and clawed its way to success all year in the face of adversity. At the very least, believe in the magic of playing at the Linc. Believe in the leadership and camaraderie of the locker room. Believe that the team will find a way, as it always has this season. Believe, if nothing else, that a trip to Minnesota is possible, and even if it doesn’t end in the way we’ve always dreamed, that it will be a harbinger of good things to come.

Believe that in 2017 and beyond, “EFF YOU, WE’RE WINNING ANYWAY!”

Oh, so you want to see the Dallas matchup?

With roster shake-ups imminent for this game, and with the only thing on the line being Dallas’ draft position, I’ll toss in how the teams compare, but it won’t mean much. GO BIRDS.