First place in the NFC East in on the line in Philly on Sunday night
The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles have a lot in common. They both play in the NFC East. Neither of them is very good. Both teams are riddled with injuries. And now, they both could have FCS quarterbacks leading their offenses. Oh yeah — and they both have only two wins apiece halfway through the season but can still win their division with a win on Sunday night. Isn't the NFC East just so fun!?
Despite having the goofiest looking record in football, the Eagles (2-4-1) are currently atop the NFC East standings. They're coming off a dramatic, come from behind, 22-21, win against the Giants last Thursday night in which they scored 14 points in the game's final four and a half minutes. Philly's injury luck this season has been nothing short of decimating, but coming to the halfway point of the season, they seem to be getting healthier, which could set them apart from the rest of the division.
Anything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the Cowboys (2-5) this season. They've lost four of their last five games, their starting quarterback for the season, and likely their backup quarterback for this week. Their defense is arguably the worst in the league. There's already dissension in the ranks in Mike McCarthy's first year coaching the team. And they just got embarrassed by Kyle Allen and the Washington Football Team last week, 25-3. But somehow, a win on Sunday against the Eagles would still put the Cowboys in first place in the division. The NFC East, man.
Sunday Night Football: Dallas at Philadelphia
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 1, 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Eagles -11
Three Things to Watch
1. Wentz on the rebound?
This year has been unkind to pretty much everyone, Carson Wentz included. The former North Dakota State Bison is in the midst of the worst statistical season of his career. He's 30th in completion rate (58 percent), 28th in passer rating (74.3), and last in both interceptions (10) and sacks taken (28). For a little bit more clarity, 21 percent of Wentz's throws have been rated as bad passes by Pro Football Reference. The only other quarterbacks to have a higher percentage of poor throws are Dwayne Haskins Jr., who isn't even dressing for games right now, and Drew Lock. Not quite the bronze medal you want to be wearing if you're a franchise quarterback.
But not all of this poor play directly falls on Wentz. Several receivers — Jalen Reagor, Alshon Jeffrey, DeSean Jackson, and Travis Fulgham — have missed multiple games, as has starting running back Miles Sanders and tight end Dallas Goedert. All the while, 80 percent of the Eagles' starting offensive line has missed significant time due to injury.
But there may be hope on the horizon for Wentz. Both Reagor and Goedert, along with left tackle Jason Peters, all practiced earlier this week and could be removed from injured reserve in time for Sunday night. If so, having all three back would be huge boons for Wentz and the Eagles' offense.
Wentz's performance last week against the Giants also offered some optimism. He posted his first 300-yard game (359) and passer rating over 90 (91.1) for the season. He was exceptional on the Eagles final two drives, completing five of his seven throws for 121 yards and two touchdowns, including the 18-yard game-winner to Boston Scott with 40 seconds left in the ballgame.
With the offense slowly but surely getting healthier, especially the offensive line, Wentz has another opportunity for a big game against the lowly Cowboys defense. More on them later.
2. Ben DiNucci?
No, I'm asking you. Who is Ben DiNucci? Because before last week, I'm not sure if anyone else on the Cowboys roster knew who he was either.
DiNucci is likely going to make his first start in a game since he led the Dukes of James Madison to the FCS National Championship Game in 2019. The rookie seventh-round pick was thrown to the wolves — well, the Washington Football Team — last week when Andy Dalton suffered a concussion after taking a dirty hit to the head from Washington linebacker Jon Bostic with six minutes left in the third quarter. DiNucci completed two of his three passing attempts but was sacked three times and fumbled twice in his debut. Welcome to the League, rook.
Dalton has not yet been cleared to play this week and probably won't (although Mike McCarthy hasn't ruled him out yet either), likely giving DiNucci his first NFL start. The good news for DiNucci is he still has some of the best weapons in the league in receivers CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup, plus running back Ezekiel Elliot. He just has to find a way to get them the ball. Also, All-Pro guard Zack Martin is likely back after dealing with a concussion of his own. However, Martin will likely be playing out of place as both starting Cowboys tackles, Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, are on IR.
DiNucci inherits a Cowboys offense that has only scored 13 total points (1 touchdown, 2 field goals) since Prescott's injury two games ago, and an O-line that allowed six sacks and eight quarterback hits against Washington. He'll also be staring down an Eagles defensive front that's pretty good at getting to opposing quarterbacks, ranking third in the league in sacks (26) with defensive end Brandon Graham (6 sacks) leading the way.
Best of luck to our new buddy, Ben.
3. Dallas' offensive defense
There's no other way to say it — the Cowboys defense is flat out bad. Coming into this season, the Dallas D was thought to be a potential force, but this year, they've been anything but. And it's not like they have one fatal flaw that continuously does them in. They're bad all around.
For starters, they give up more points per game than any other team in the league (34.7) and have forced the least number of turnovers (3). Against the pass, they're middle of the road in terms of yards allowed (229.9, 11th) and completion percentage (61.1 percent, 4th) but 26th in passer rating allowed (106.7) and 28th in touchdowns surrendered (16). In seven games they have intercepted one pass. One. A JV defense can pick off more than one pass in 221 attempts, even by accident.
When it comes to stopping the run, the Cowboys are against it. They've allowed the most rushing yards this season (1,248) and rank 31st in average per carry (5.2) and 30th in touchdowns allowed (11). Opposing teams have rushed for more than 100 yards in all but one game this season. Dallas has allowed three games of 200-plus yards rushing, including 307 against the Browns in Week 4. Over the last two games, the Cowboys have allowed 469 total rushing yards to Washington and Arizona. That's more than the Buccaneers and Steelers have allowed all season long.
As the Eagles offense starts to get healthier, the only silver lining for Dallas is that Philly has given up more sacks than any other team this season (28). The Cowboys were able to muster a couple of sacks last week against Allen, but their 13 sacks for the season rank 18th and their 32 QB hits are tied for 22nd.
The Cowboys are no longer favored to win a single game for the rest of the season. How's that for encouragement? Despite the tight-knit race to the bottom in the NFC East, the loss of Prescott has proven to be a death blow for the Cowboys, and they might actually be the worst team in the division. If Wentz can continue to improve as the positions around him get healthier, I think this division is Philly's for the taking and so is Sunday night against the Cowboys
Prediction: Eagles 25, Cowboys 17
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.