1. A popular sports-talk radio topic this week has been: If the Eagles stumble tonight, should Chip Kelly’s first season still be deemed a success? The answer is yes, but a loss will definitely re-shape some of the offseason conversation.
The Eagles (at a minimum) have shown a five-game improvement from last year. The offense has been one of the best in the league. The defense has exceeded expectations. The quarterback’s played out of his mind. The culture in the building is dramatically different. And Kelly seems to have found the right balance between being a players’ coach and a disciplinarian. For all of those reasons, Year 1 has been a success as Kelly has laid a solid foundation to build on going forward.
But the Eagles have a tremendous opportunity in front of them. They have won six of seven overall and are 7-point favorites against a Kyle Orton-led Cowboys squad. To act like they're just playing with house money is disingenuous. The truth is they're playing in a game where the stakes are high, and they are expected to win. If they lose, the devastation won't reach Ghosts Of NFC Championships Past levels, but it will still be a major disappointment to the coaches, players and the fan base.
2. On Friday, Tim and I explained why we both think the Eagles win this game by double digits. But it's worth considering the scenarios where they either lose or find themselves in a tight game late in the fourth quarter:
- Orton lights up the secondary - The name that keeps getting brought up is Matt Cassel. If he can go 26-for-35 for 382 yards against the Eagles, then who's to count Orton out? The stakes are different, and maybe the Vikings game served as a wake-up call of sorts, but the Cowboys just need Orton to play well for four quarters, not four weeks.
- Special teams miscues - According to Football Outsiders, the Cowboys have the sixth-ranked ST unit in the league, while the Eagles are 26th. This is one area that has been a disappointment for the Birds in 2013. One or two big returns by Dwayne Harris could keep Dallas in it.
- A repeat performance by Nick Foles - The thing about that first Dallas game is we still have no clear explanation about what happened - no injury or other factor. The second-year QB just had a bad day. Foles has been on fire since that game, and I think he'll respond well, but there's at least the possibility of another bad day with the offense stalling.
3. Regardless of what happens today, I don't anticipate much turnover on the Eagles' coaching staff. But given what Kelly's accomplished offensively, some of his assistants could get a look elsewhere:
#Eagles QBs coach Bill Lazor could receive interest from some schools with current and future head-coaching vacancies coming up.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) December 22, 2013
Kelly has been the architect on offense, but Lazor has been the one running the meetings with Foles and the other QBs all season long. He's a name to keep an eye on as the coaching carousel starts to spin (at both the college and NFL levels) on Monday.
4. A follower asked today who Eagles fans should be rooting for in the other games. I recapped all the scenarios earlier in the week. But the team's best-case scenario (at least as I see it) would be a first-round matchup at the Linc against the Cardinals or Saints with a potential divisional round matchup in Carolina to face the Panthers.
Avoiding the 49ers altogether and a avoiding a trip to New Orleans in the second round would be ideal. There is no scenario where the Eagles could face the Seahawks before the NFC title game (regardless of what happens today).
As for the Saints or Cardinals, I'm really not sure which would present a tougher matchup. Drew Brees is obviously scarier than Carson Palmer, but Arizona's been on fire with one loss (at the hands of the Eagles) in its last eight games.
5. One player to keep an eye on today is Mychal Kendricks. He's become a versatile piece for defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Kendricks has three sacks and an interception in the last two games. He'll sometimes threaten the A-Gap and then drop back into coverage. Other times, he'll attack aggressively as a blitzer. The Cowboys' offensive line has played well this year, but it won't have the benefit of Tony Romo's "escapability" today. Look for the Eagles to attack the interior of the Cowboys' line with Kendricks as an extra pass-rusher.