Since the NFC East was formed in 1970, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have combined for 31 of 50 division titles. Their rivalry game this Monday night often proves the difference in who winds up making the playoffs and who comes up short.
The Eagles have had the Cowboys' number since the turn of the century, earning nine of 21 possible NFC East titles. The Cowboys are next up with five but have fallen short of a Super Bowl appearance, instead watching their rivals defeat Tom Brady and the Patriots for a Vince Lombardi trophy in early 2018.
Since then, the Cowboys have failed to gain postseason traction of their own. A two-year playoff drought has included injuries to starting quarterback Dak Prescott and the firing of former head coach Jason Garrett.
It makes Monday night's test all the more important between two teams that feel they're the best in the division. At 1-1, the Eagles have an ambitious young squad and a first-year head coach who surprised with a Week 1 dismantling of the Falcons. The Cowboys, meanwhile, put the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers on the ropes before a Brady comeback downed them in the closing seconds. A last-second, 56-yard field goal kept them from an 0-2 record with a key victory against the Chargers in Week 2.
Can the Cowboys pick up where they left off? Or will the Eagles rediscover their magic from Week 1?
Monday Night Football: Philadelphia (1-1) at Dallas (1-1)
Kickoff: Monday, Sept. 27 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Cowboys -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Eagles' defensive front recover in time to stop the Dallas run game?
The Eagles received tough news this week with Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham out for the season with a torn Achilles. Young teams need a veteran leader to corral them, and Graham, the longest-tenured member of the Eagles, was well-respected in the locker room as a captain.
"Everyone has to try to fill that void collectively because not one guy is going to be able to do that," Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said this week. "We do feel good with the leaders that we still have within the defense."
The thought process is Ryan Kerrigan will play more snaps while recently extended Josh Sweat will need to live up to his new contract. The Cowboys provide an immediate test with a run game ranked seventh in the NFL.
That's in large part to a surprising name: Tony Pollard, emerging as more than just a change-of-pace back. His 7.7 yards per carry average leads all running backs, combining with Ezekiel Elliott to put up 180 rush yards between them against the Chargers.
So far, that continues to be the Eagles' weakness; they were 23rd in rush defense last season and have started the year tied for 18th. Watch how they patch the Graham hole early because the Cowboys' first-quarter game plan will involve running it up the middle.
2. Which Eagles offense will show up?
Remember that yards per carry average from Pollard? He's actually third in the NFL behind the 8.5 of Jalen Hurts. Hurts drove the Eagles all over the field against the Falcons, posting 326 total yards, a 126.4 quarterback rating, and a 77.1 percent completion rate.
It felt like the Eagles started the year clicking on all cylinders. But last week? In their home debut against the San Francisco 49ers? They could only come up with a measly 11 points, eight of those happening in fourth-quarter garbage time.
Instead, the first eight offensive possessions included just 190 yards of offense when you take out a 91-yard bomb to Quez Watkins in the second quarter. Even then, it didn't matter, as the Eagles failed to score despite having 1st-and-goal at their opponents' 1-yard line.
The yo-yo has left everyone scratching their heads on which offense will come out against the Cowboys. DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia's first-round picks the past two drafts, will be the key to moving the chains. They caught just four of their 12 targets in Week 2.
3. Can the Cowboys close the deal on offense with Dak?
Prescott looked phenomenal in Week 1, passing for 403 yards in a return from a devastating ankle injury that cut short his 2020 season. But Week 2 was a bit of a return to earth against the Chargers: no touchdown passes, one interception, and the loss of top wideout Amari Cooper to a rib injury.
Cooper is questionable for this game, although the Cowboys expect him to gut it out. Either way, Prescott needs to show he's capable of closing the deal. This team has the second-best offense in the NFC through two weeks, racking up an average of 435 total yards. But their red zone percentage (42.86 percent) ranks just 26th as there have been a long list of missed opportunities.
The Cowboys have had no problem moving the ball, only to stop short when it counts, like the last possession against the Chargers needing a 56-yard field goal to bail them out of overtime. That included some questionable calls by second-year head coach Mike McCarthy, but it also fell on the shoulders of the offense.
Field goals keep other teams in the game. Will the Cowboys convert those into touchdowns at home?
The Eagles are clear underdogs Monday night. But there's something about the way the Cowboys haven't been able to pull away from their opponents despite dominating them on both sides of the ball. You keep teams in the game, you get bit in the fourth quarter, and the Eagles showed signs of late against the 49ers.
Both teams tend to get up for these rivalry games and the Eagles have overachieved thus far. I'll take them in a squeaker that leaves everyone wondering how they did it.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Cowboys 24
— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.