|NFL Week 9: Cowboys at Eagles Preview & Picks|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Sunday, 04 November 2007 11:00|
NFC East Showdown
Tony Romo may be riding high after getting a huge contract from the first-place Dallas Cowboys, but Donovan McNabb still believes the last-place Philadelphia Eagles will have a major say as to who wins the NFC East this year.
Romo and the Cowboys play the first of three straight games against divisional foes on Sunday night when they visit McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Dallas -3.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 47 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 90% of bets for this game have been placed on Dallas -3.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Dallas (6-1) signed Romo to a six-year, $67.5 million contract on Tuesday, making him the third-highest paid quarterback in the league. It's quite a step forward for an undrafted player who hadn't thrown a pass in an NFL game until last season.
Romo started the final 10 games for the Cowboys in 2006, throwing for 2,903 yards and 19 touchdowns and being named to his first Pro Bowl. He has been outstanding again this year, throwing an NFC-leading 16 touchdowns.
"It almost feels like we accomplished something here today, but it doesn't," Romo said Tuesday. "This sets you up financially and does all the things that you somewhat hoped for in life, but you don't set it out as a goal when you start out as a football player. This is something that more or less comes along the way."
Dallas leads the NFC East by one-half game over the New York Giants, who have the weekend off. The Cowboys visit the Giants next week before returning home to face Washington.
McNabb feels that the road to the NFC East title still goes through the Eagles (3-4), who have won five of the last six crowns but have dropped their first two division games this season.
"That's the way it is. I don't feel like it's a target, it's just reality," McNabb said. "When you want to be the best and be the heavyweight champion, you can beat everyone that you're fighting. Until you compete against a champion, no one will look to you as the champion unless you beat the champion.
"It's not anything like bulletin-board material or something to motivate you. If you need that to motivate you to play this game, you don't need to play."
McNabb is 6-1 as a starter at home against Dallas, and had one of his best performances of the year in last week's 23-16 win at Minnesota. The five-time Pro Bowler completed 23-of-36 passes for 333 yards and one touchdown, showing signs that he is regaining his mobility after knee surgery.
"I just thought he moved very well in the pocket laterally," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "Then, when he did decide to take off and go, he took off and went. He did a nice job of that."
This is the first time Romo and McNabb have faced each other. Romo had a miserable day in his lone appearance against Dallas last season, completing 14-of-29 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions in a 23-7 loss on Christmas Day.
The Eagles expect to see a more confident version of Romo.
"I think he has improved," Reid said. "I thought he was good last year, I think he's taken another step forward this year. He's a good football player, it looks like he enjoys playing the game, he's got very good vision and feel."
Divisional play has been a problem for Dallas, which is just 8-11 against the NFC East since the start of the 2004 season. The Cowboys, who haven't won the East since 1998, beat the Giants 45-35 on Sept. 9 in their lone division game so far this year.
Philadelphia has won nine of the last 12 meetings with Dallas, including both last season.
Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens will make his second trip back to Philadelphia since being de-activated by the Eagles near the end of the 2005 season. Owens was mostly a non-factor in the Cowboys' two losses to the Eagles last season. He had three catches for 45 yards and no touchdowns in a 38-24 loss at Philadelphia on Oct. 8, 2006.
Romo and Owens will have to face a defense that is on the rise. The Eagles limited NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson to just 70 yards on 20 carries in last week's win. The pass rush is led by defensive end Trent Cole, who has a league-high nine sacks.
"Their whole defense can rush the passer," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. "Of course, (Eagles defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson does a great job with the blitz package too, so they can give you all kinds of problems."
Johnson's defense is expected to receive a huge boost with the return of safety Brian Dawkins, who hasn't played since suffering a neck injury in a 20-12 loss to Washington on Sept. 17. Dawkins has practiced the last two weeks with the scout team.
"I'm not going to put a number on the snaps that I think I am going to be good for," Dawkins said. "I think that every snap I'm out there, I'm going to be good for. So if they let me play the whole game, hopefully every snap will be a good one. So that's how I am going to approach it."
While Dawkins may be back, cornerback Lito Sheppard has missed some practice time this week with a knee sprain. Sheppard missed four games earlier this season with the same problem.
Dawkins and Sheppard each picked off Romo in the last meeting between the clubs.
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