Three weeks remain in the 2014 NFL regular season, but the fate of the NFC East could be decided on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 15. The Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) will host the Dallas Cowboys (9-4), as the two teams are tied atop the division.
Even though the two teams share the same record, Dallas’s divisional hopes will virtually disappear with a loss. Because they defeated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, the Eagles would get the tiebreaker with a Week 15 victory. Philadelphia would have to lose two straight games to the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, and Dallas would have to beat both the Redskins and Indianapolis Colts, in order for the Cowboys to finish the season in first place.
Dallas is coming off a 41-28 victory against the Chicago Bears. The win improved the Cowboys’ road record to 6-0, making them the only undefeated road team in the NFL.
Philadelphia suffered their first home loss in Week 14, losing to the Seattle Seahawks, 24-14. The Seahawks were one of the few teams that have been able to shut down the Eagles’ explosive offense, which ranks second in the NFC in scoring (29.9ppg). It marked the first time all season that Chip Kelly’s team did not score at least 20 points.
Mark Sanchez has been one of the biggest surprises in 2014, throwing 10 touchdowns and 1,500 yards in six games. However, some believe that the quarterback’s numbers have been a mirage, and he isn’t much better than the player that was replaced by Geno Smith with the New York Jets.
"Tell the Philadelphia police to put an APB out," Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett told USA Today Sports. "Sanchez is trying to impersonate a good quarterback."
There is some validity to Bennett’s comments. Sanchez has been surprisingly good, for the most part, but he’s done so by taking advantage of Kelly’s system and weak opponents. Against the Seahawks, who might have the league’s best defense, Sanchez completed 10 of 20 passes for 96 yards. Sanchez’s other loss as a starter came against the Green Bay Packers, who rank ninth in opponents’ passer rating.
Sanchez threw more interceptions than touchdowns in his career with the Jets, and he remains mistake-prone. He’s thrown seven picks, averaging an interception on 3.6 percent of his throws, giving Sanchez the eighth-highest mark in the NFL.
However, the Eagles are favored to win Sunday’s game (3.5 points), as well as the NFC East, because of the way Sanchez and the offense have handled average and below-average defenses. Sanchez led the Eagles to a 45-21 win over the Carolina Panthers in his first game as a starter, throwing for 332 yards, two scores and no picks. Against Dallas, the 28-year-old completed 69 percent of his passes for no interceptions and a 102.2 passer rating.
The Cowboys defense over performed in the first half of the year, but the unit has come back down to earth in recent games. Dallas has allowed their last three opponents to score at least 28 points each, and the opposing quarterbacks have posted passer ratings of 112.3, 102.2 and 96.4.
If Dallas wins, there’s a good chance it will be in a high-scoring affair. Philadelphia’s defense has allowed its fair share of points, ranking 20th in scoring defense (23.8). The Cowboys are 0-4 when scoring fewer than 20 points. The over/under is 55.5 points, good enough for the highest total in Week 15.
Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray have been among the best quarterbacks and running backs this season, but Dallas has lost when their two stars have struggled. All four of the Cowboys’ losses have come when Romo has failed to complete at least 65 percent of his passes, and Dallas is 0-2 when Murray doesn’t amass at least 100 rushing yards.
Prediction: Philadelphia over Dallas, 31-24