The Philadelphia Eagles dreamed big before Dec. 15. If the red hot Eagles beat the 3-9-1 Minnesota Vikings and saw the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia could dream of eliminating Dallas before going there on Dec. 29. However, it was the Eagles staring early elimination in the face for a good part of the day, until the Packers saved their lives with an improbable 37-36 rally -- and made a 48-30 Philadelphia loss in Minnesota hurt less.
Once the Eagles were steamrolled by the Vikings, they had to root even harder for the Packers. It didn't pay off in the first half, as the Cowboys went up by 26-3 and were turning the day into a total nightmare. Once Dallas inevitably held on, it would go to 8-6 and hold first place in a tiebreaker again -- and have a real chance to eliminate Philadelphia on Dec. 22.
The Cowboys next visit a Washington Redskins team that is 3-11 and the most dysfunctional mess in the NFL. In contrast, the Eagles host a Chicago Bears club that is now 8-6 and has Jay Cutler back for their dogfight in the NFC North. As the Cowboys rolled over the Packers after the Eagles' upset loss, it was easy to imagine a Dallas win and Philadelphia loss ending the NFC East race next week.
Instead, the Packers did the Eagles a great favor for the second time this season. The first came when Philadelphia knocked off Green Bay on Nov. 10, which kicked off the Eagles' second half run and the Packers' collapse without Aaron Rodgers in earnest. While a Rodgers-less Green Bay could do nothing on that day, Philadelphia was relieved to see a far different story a month later.
Thanks to the Packers' latest present, the Eagles cannot be eliminated before Week 17. In fact, with a Philadelphia win over Chicago and a Dallas upset loss in Washington, the Eagles can indeed win the NFC East a week early. Even if the Cowboys win and Eagles lose, these two 8-7 teams would still play for the division title a week later in Dallas.
Of course, if the Eagles have a two-game losing streak before then, their chances for a win in Dallas won't look good. Then again, the Cowboys hardly looked like a juggernaut themselves in their latest missed opportunity -- and the Eagles' latest gift.