Rematch with Eagles will decide East

IRVING, Texas -- Nearly three months ago in the bowels of Tennessee's LP Field, Tony Romo declared to small group of reporters that the Dallas Cowboys were going to be much better than most folks envisioned.

None of us believed him, even though the Cowboys had just beaten the Tennessee Titans, because Romo still looked hobbled and the San Francisco 49ers had beaten them 28-17 a week earlier.

Well, it turns out Romo was right.

The 9-4 Cowboys are tied for first place in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, and now they have an opportunity for redemption against the Eagles, who pummeled them by 23 points on Thanksgiving Day.

The Cowboys must win if they want to realistically capture the NFC East. A loss would essentially give Philadelphia a two-game lead with two games to play because the Eagles would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys.

A win would give Dallas sole possession of first place in the division and control of its playoff destiny. For a team that has missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, the Cowboys would love to be able to make the playoffs without needing help from some other team.

Philadelphia embarrassed the Cowboys in every facet of the game in their first meeting.

Don't expect another blowout this time.

The Cowboys have been at their best this season when it comes to exacting revenge.

If you ask coach Jason Garrett about it, he'll refer to his talking points and mention how teams change so much from year to year that you can't put much stock in previous results and how the Cowboys are solely focused on this week's opponent.


The core of this team remembers the butt-kickings it has absorbed over the past couple of years from the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears. It is certainly no coincidence the Cowboys have played their best games this season against those teams.

It started in Week 4, when the Cowboys beat New Orleans 38-17 to avenge a 49-17 loss in 2013 in which the Saints gained more than 600 yards. It continued in Week 6 in a 30-23 win at Seattle, which had beaten them 27-7 in 2012.

At the time, the Seahawks had won 18 of their previous 19 home games.

It continued last week when the Cowboys smashed Chicago 41-28 -- the same Bears, of course, who had scored on their first eight possessions last season in a 45-28 rout.

So you should expect the Cowboys to give a much better performance this time than they did Thanksgiving Day, but understand it still might not be enough to beat Philadelphia.

The Eagles have a better defense and much better special teams, and the offenses are about the same. Part of the reason the Eagles blew out the Cowboys, if we're honest, is because the Eagles are probably one of the worst teams to play against on a short week because they play offense at warp speed.

A short week means dead legs most of the time. Dead legs against Philadelphia usually equals a blowout.

Besides, Romo had only three days to get his body ready to play, a process that normally takes the full week between games. In their first meeting, Romo looked old and stiff and played poorly.

Given 10 days to prepare for Philadelphia, you'll get the best Romo has to offer this week. Think about it: He was good against Chicago with a full week to prepare. Romo completed 21 of 26 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns.

There's a lot of pride in the Cowboys' locker room. You saw it in the fourth quarter against Chicago, when Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick used profane language on the sideline to inspire their teammates to hold on against the Bears after a 35-7 lead had been trimmed to 10 points.

Dallas gained 267 yards against Philadelphia, its second-lowest total of the season.

The offensive line will want to prove that was a fluke; so will DeMarco Murray, who had season lows in yards (73), yards per carry (3.7) and 10-yard runs (zero).

The defense was abject, allowing 17 points and 226 yards on the Eagles' first three possessions. You know linebacker Rolando McClain, a nonfactor against the Eagles in the first game, will be amped to play after 10 days off.

The Cowboys need him to play well if they're going to slow down Philadelphia's running game, which amassed 256 yards on 45 carries.

Each of the past three seasons, the Cowboys lost the division in the final game of the season.

The Cowboys still have a game against the Washington Redskins in Week 17, but we all know the division will be decided Sunday.

With each victory, Romo's prediction draws a little closer.