Based on last weekend’s matchup for the NFC East title, however, it’s the Cowboys who have all the advantages over the Eagles.
The division rivals will meet at Cowboys Stadium for the second time in seven days as Dallas seeks to end its 13-year drought without a playoff victory Saturday night by defeating Philadelphia for the third time this season.
The Eagles are forced to return to Dallas this week after the Cowboys (11-5) clinched the NFC East crown with a 24-0 victory Sunday. Philadelphia (11-5) would have earned a first-round bye with a win, but instead is seeded sixth for the second straight season.
“They played better than we played,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “They coached better than we coached. You get back to business and you do it in a very matter-of-fact way. If you get caught up in all the what ifs and this and that, then you’re making a mistake.
“We don’t have time for that. It’s a hurried-up week and you have to get right back on the horse and figure out how to not get bucked off again.”
Dallas - which dominated the 1990s with three Super Bowl titles - is in position to win a playoff game for the first time since 1996. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has been in the postseason seven times in that span and has advanced past its first game every time under Reid, reaching five NFC title games including last year’s run.
Since Reid was hired by the Eagles in 1999, the Cowboys have used four different coaches.
“I wouldn’t have dreamed that in ’96 we wouldn’t have (won) a playoff, and I wouldn’t have dreamed that we would have had the turnover in the coaches that we’ve had,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I wouldn’t have dreamed we would have had some of the challenges that, whether it was self-imposed or not through me, that we’ve had in our quarterbacking. So all of those things as I look back over these years I couldn’t have imagined that.”
This game could represent Dallas’ best chance to advance. Philadelphia finished fifth in the league with 429 points, but managed one touchdown and 16 points in two games against the Cowboys.
Last week was a low point for the Eagles, who had a six-game win streak snapped in emphatic fashion. Dallas’ dominant defense held Philadelphia to a season-low 228 yards and Donovan McNabb(notes) was sacked four times.
McNabb said after the game that “we showed our youth,” but has since backed off those comments. His completion percentage against the Cowboys this year is at 54.5 after he topped 60.0 for the third straight season.
“It all starts with me. I have to raise my level of play, and everyone else has to as well,” McNabb said. “What I meant is, we have a young team, and a lot of things we were doing just were very uncharacteristic of what we did all throughout the year. I wasn’t blaming it on anyone, by any means.”
Dallas enters the playoffs with consecutive shutouts to boost the job security of Wade Phillips - the only coach also serving as defensive coordinator. Phillips, 0-4 all-time in the playoffs, is in the final season of a three-year contract, but his deal includes a team option for next season.
There have been 19 previous occasions in which teams have met in the playoffs after one swept two regular-season matchups. The team with two victories has completed the sweep 12 times, although the Cowboys have failed both times they’ve faced that scenario, including two seasons ago when they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
“I’d rather be playing them at home the way we are and having won the last game, and that’s where we are,” Phillips said. “It’s not a negative for us, I don’t believe, that you’re playing a team a third time.”
Phillips’ defense has done an excellent job of containing Eagles Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson(notes), who has five receptions for 76 yards and three punt returns for 18 yards with no touchdowns against Dallas this season. Jackson had 11 TDs - nine receiving - and eight of his scores went for at least 50 yards.
“Personally, I don’t think they are doing that much to take away DeSean,” McNabb insisted. “The thing about it is we spread the ball around.”
This will be the third playoff game for Tony Romo(notes), who threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend’s victory. Romo is trying to reverse a poor playoff history in which he has a 53.8 completion percentage and a total of 390 yards passing.
“This ballclub has done a good job of putting its best foot forward when it has to,” Romo said. “We haven’t arrived and we haven’t accomplished anything. This is a step in the process to continue to get to where we want to go.”
The rivals will meet for the fourth time in the postseason. Philadelphia won the NFC title game in 1981 to reach its first Super Bowl while Dallas won divisional-round matchups en route to Super Bowl titles in 1993 and 1996.
The Eagles believe they will have a better showing than last weekend.
“I’m excited. After what they did to us, I can’t wait to come back here,” tight end Brent Celek(notes) said. “After getting whooped like that, we want to prove we weren’t the team that showed up here (Sunday). They kind of put us in our place. They woke us up.”
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