In a year full of change, it's no surprise that there has been plenty of turnover since the first meeting between the division-rival Eagles (4-9-1) and the Cowboys (5-9). Since their Week 8 matchup in Philadelphia, each team has upgraded the quarterback position, have seen key players return from their injuries, and have lost other key players to injuries.
But one thing will always remain certain between these two organizations: when playoff hopes are on the line, everything is left out on the gridiron. Here are five of the most important storylines for each team heading into Sunday afternoon's matchup with Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium.
- Let's start with a seismic change to Philly's roster this month: second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts replacing Carson Wentz as the starting quarterback. In college, Hurts became the first quarterback ever to lead two separate programs to the playoff (Alabama, Oklahoma). He's a winner, and he has sparked the Eagles' offense these last two weeks, starting with an upset win over the New Orleans Saints. According to NBC Sports, Hurts is just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to post five combined touchdowns (rushing and passing) with no interceptions in his first two pro starts.
- What's next for Wentz and the Eagles? That's the biggest question surrounding their franchise now and potentially this offseason. Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million extension in 2019, and reports say the Eagles remain committed to him long term. However, Hurts is expected to start Sunday against the Cowboys and potentially the rest of the season, so it remains to be seen which quarterback the Cowboys will face twice in 2021.
- Last Sunday, the Eagles dropped from third place in the NFC East to last place following their 33-26 loss to the Cardinals and the Cowboys' victory over the 49ers. Hurts was outstanding in his second start, passing for 338 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Philly erased a 16-0 deficit in the first quarter to keep the game close, but Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards and three touchdowns, including the deciding TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins in the fourth quarter.
- Despite their division standing, the Eagles aren't out of the NFC East race just yet. Like the Cowboys, they need to win their final two games and hope their division rivals lose games. That means Sunday's rematch at AT&T Stadium is an elimination game for both teams.
- It's been a rollercoaster season for the Eagles offense under Wentz and now Hurts, but defensively Philly continues to battle through injuries. They forced three turnovers against the Cardinals last Sunday, and Pro Bowl defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will be a challenge for the Cowboys' banged-up offensive line.
- It had been nearly 16 months since Dallas had strung together back-to-back wins with their victory over San Francisco, 41-33. Sunday marked the second time this season where the Cowboys were able to top the 40-point plateau and the first time since their 40-39 win over Atlanta in Week 2. Despite the points, Dallas was outgained by San Francisco 458 yards to 291 but were able to take advantage of four 49ers turnovers that led to 24 of the 41 points. Dallas' win gives them six wins over San Francisco in their last seven meetings dating back to 2005.
- The win, along with Washington's loss to Seattle, allows for Dallas to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least one more week. Dallas entered Week 15 needing to win each of their final three games and for Washington to lose out in order to win the NFC East and advance to the postseason. As they enter Week 16, that remains the case as Washington has another opportunity to seal the Cowboys' fate with a win over Carolina this Sunday. Another added element to this week's playoff scenario is that Dallas would end Philadelphia's chances at a playoff berth with a win this week as well.
- Sunday will be the second annual meeting between the two NFC East foes and, much like the Eagles, the Cowboys have seen an upgrade at quarterback since the Week 8 bout. In the first matchup, Dallas was without Andy Dalton at quarterback and instead had to trot out rookie seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci behind a decimated offensive line. With no Zack Martin up front and minimal time to adjust to the NFL game, DiNucci finished 21-40 for 180 yards and a pair of fumbles in the 23-9 loss. After a disappointing outing against Washington, the defense kept the Cowboys in the game by forcing a season-best four turnovers and holding the Eagles offense to just 222 yards. Dallas had a couple of opportunities late in the game to either tie or take the lead, but the offense never was able to get off the ground and cemented another divisional loss for the Cowboys.
- Much like they were able to do against Philadelphia the first time around, the Dallas defense has suddenly found a groove in finding takeaways. Over the last two weeks, Dallas has forced seven turnovers that have led to 41 total points after only having 11 takeaways in the first 12 games of the year. One of the contributing factors to the success has been the reinforcements on the defensive side, specifically in the secondary. Week 15 marked the first game all season where the top four cornerbacks on the depth chart were all active at the same time (Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Trevon Diggs, and Jourdan Lewis).
- Despite the Cowboys getting healthy in the secondary, there are still some key playmakers that are questionable entering the week against Philadelphia. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch suffered a sprained ankle in the win over the 49ers and could miss Sunday's game, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Vander Esch played 94% of the snaps against Philadelphia the first matchup and registered a strip-sack on Carson Wentz. However, Dallas could see a return from Ezekiel Elliott after he missed Week 15 with a lingering calf injury. Tony Pollard finished with over 130 total yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns in his second career start.
The Cowboys will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in their last home game of the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 3:25 p.m. A limited number of tickets are on sale now. Get yours now before they sell out!
Details on all of the health and safety procedures you can expect at AT&T Stadium can be viewed at www.DallasCowboys.com/safestadium.