The Philadelphia Eagles have already clinched a fourth straight NFC East title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. They could have a No. 1 seed wrapped up before they even take the field on Sunday.
If not, the Eagles will try to take matters into their own hands and earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs as they host the Dallas Cowboys.
The Eagles clinched their division with a 27-6 win over the New York Giants on Nov. 28. They will lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC if Carolina beats Atlanta on Saturday, or can do it themselves with a win over the Cowboys.
However, even if Sunday’s game does not have playoff implications, coach Andy Reid said he will play his starters.
“Right now the guys are going to play and we’ll keep ourselves sharp and get ourselves ready to go,” he said Wednesday.
The Eagles, who have already matched a team record with 12 wins, finish the season at St. Louis and Cincinnati. Reid said he intends to give his players some rest, but he also wants them to remain sharp and enter the postseason with some momentum.
Despite their extended run of success, the Eagles have fallen short of their ultimate goal the last three seasons, losing the NFC championship game each year.
“As much momentum as you can keep going into the playoffs, that’s what you’d like,” Reid said. “I’m not going to tell you that down the stretch that some of those young guys are not going to play. I think that’s also important and it’s a great time for those guys to have an opportunity to play.”
The Eagles held on for their fifth straight win Sunday, beating the Washington Redskins 17-14. Philadelphia had won its previous four games by at least 21 points, and had beaten every other NFC opponent by at least 10.
“You’re not going to be able to go out and click on all cylinders all the time,” said safety Brian Dawkins, who made a game-saving interception in the end zone. “There’s going to be struggles sometimes. We’re trying to build something special, and these games help us because more than likely it’s going to be like this in the playoffs.”
Wide receiver Terrell Owens caught six passes for 46 yards, but failed to score a touchdown. He has caught 14 touchdown passes this season, and Reid has promised to wear black spandex tights to practice if he finishes with at least 15.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb completed 21 of 38 passes for 260 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The Cowboys lost 27-13 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, snapping a two-game winning streak that had them thinking about a wild-card berth. Dallas still has a mathematical chance to make the postseason, but would have to win its last three games against Philadelphia, Washington and the Giants and need plenty of help from other teams.
“The last couple of weeks, my spirit was up a little bit,” Dallas coach Bill Parcells said. “I was really kind of hoping, genuinely hoping, and I thought that there was a chance we could get going here.”
The Cowboys managed just 269 yards against the Saints, who came in allowing the most points and yards in the NFL.
“Every time we have an opportunity with this team to do something and to maybe make something out of our season, we revert to the kind of thing you saw today, which was a very, very poor example of how to try to win,” Parcells said. “We couldn’t make a play when we needed to.”
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw for 167 yards on 14-of-35 passing and has 10 interceptions and five touchdowns in the last six games. However, Parcells said that Testaverde will start again Sunday instead of rookie Drew Henson, who is considered Dallas’ quarterback of the future.
The Eagles handed the Cowboys their worst loss of the season Nov. 15, winning 49-21 in a Monday night matchup. It was Philadelphia’s highest-scoring game of the season and the most points ever allowed by Dallas at home.
“The thing about that particular game was the big plays really hurt us,” Dallas defensive tackle La’Roi Glover said. “That is something we’re trying to correct and hopefully we can show how much we’ve improved on Sunday.”