NFC Wild Card Preview: Eagles at Cowboys
by Robert Ferringo - 1/5/2010
Help me out with this one: is Wade Phillips Charlie Brown or is he Lucy?
You know the metaphor: Charlie Brown always runs as hard as he can while Lucy holds the football for him to kick. Yet every single time Lucy pulls the ball away at the last second and Chuck falls flat on his face or back. Every time Charlie thinks it’s going to be different, but every time it ends up exactly the same.
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Well, Phillips and the Dallas Cowboys are hosting Philadelphia at 8 p.m. on Saturday in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs. The Cowboys are four-point favorites while searching for their first playoff win since 1996. In that time they have lost six consecutive postseason games, an NFL record, including a home loss to the Giants in 2007 under Phillips.
Big Wade is also 0-4 in his career in the playoffs. And I will always remember him as the guy who chose to start Rob Johnson over Doug Flutie in the 1999 playoffs. A layperson may remember that game a little better as The Music City Miracle.
So you tell me, is Phillips Charlie? Is he the chubby, well-intentioned, naïve kid who just runs, runs, runs as fast as he can but simply can’t figure it out and is destined to end up falling on his face? Or is he Lucy? Is he the one that slowly but surely lulls fans and bettors into believing that “this time will be different” only to pull the ball out from underneath his loyal backers at the worst possibly moment?
I’m not sure. But I do know this – you have to have some pretty big stones to run up to the window and lay four points this weekend. Not just because the Cowboys have been abject failures time and time again in clutch spots. But also because The Boys are lined up against Andy Reid and the Eagles, who are not only Dallas’ hated rival but also he anti-Cowboys over the last decade because of their ability to win in January.
Reid enters this weekend with a 10-7 playoff record and in seven postseason appearances over the last 10 years he has never had his Eagles bounced before winning at least one playoff game.
Now, Dallas should win this game. They should. They swept the season series, winning 20-16 in Philly back in early November and then laying a 24-0 ass kicking on the visiting Eagles just last Sunday. The Cowboys outgained the Eagles 828-425 in the two games, including 255-126 on the ground, and simply pushed Philadelphia around physically on both sides of the ball in each instance.
Dallas also has the advantage of playing at home, where they are 6-2 this season, and they have the momentum of three straight wins behind them. This team has been an underachiever for the better part of this decade and after a while you just have to think that they are “due” to break through.
But that’s how they getcha. It’s how they always getcha.
Dallas is just 3-9 against the spread in its last 12 games in January and just 5-11 ATS in their last 16 games against NFC East teams. They are also 0-2 in their last two playoff games against divisional opponents that they swept during the season over the past 11 years. That includes Big Wade’s first year in Dallas when the Cowboys lost a Divisional Round game at home to the Giants. (The other missed sweep was when Arizona beat Dallas in 1998 in one of the three biggest upsets in NFL history.)
The Eagles are down. They had a chance to be hosting this playoff game if they had won in Big D last week. In fact, Philadelphia entered last Sunday with hopes of earning the No. 2 seed and a first round bye with a win and a Vikings loss. Neither happened. And now two of every three bettors hitting the window this week are willing to wager that the Birds have a real short stay in this postseason.
But that’s also kind of why I might like Philadelphia this week.
Philadelphia teams are great underdogs in any sport. They just are. Especially in big games. And the underdog is a stellar 8-3 ATS in the last 11 meetings and the Eagles are an exceptional 10-4 ATS in their last 14 trips to Dallas. This is one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL and there is a reason why everyone knows the adage, “It’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season.”
Further, Philadelphia is 13-5 ATS as an underdog, 17-8 ATS in their last 25 road games, and an amazing 35-17 ATS as a road underdog. They have also covered five straight lines as a playoff underdog. Last year they won outright as a three-point dog at New York, in 2007 they covered as five-point dogs at New Orleans, in 2005 they covered as seven-point dogs in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, and in 2002 they covered back-to-back games at Chicago and at St. Louis.
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Basically, the Cowboys are screw-ups. And the thing with screw-ups is that they always find a way to lull you into believing that “this time will be different” before predictably screwing up. I mean, how could you possibly have faith in Dallas when we’ve seen them just crumble in these situations time and time and time again? And when you factor in that they are matched up against the team that entered the season as the prohibitive NFC favorite, a team that has experienced all kinds of postseason success over the past 10 years, a rival that knows all of their weaknesses, and a team that has revenge for stealing the division title from the last week, you have to be at least a little hesitant at slapping down your hard earned green on Wade “Never Met A Big Game That I Couldn’t Lose” Phillips and the Dallas Choke-boys.
But then again, maybe it will be different this time.