Coming off a dominant win over the Philadelphia Eagles to cap the regular season with three consecutive wins, the Dallas Cowboys will open up the playoffs with what's sure to be an enthralling first round game against ... the Philadelphia Eagles.
The smack has been talked (thanks DeSean Jackson), the star has been spit on (thanks Dave Spadaro), and the mutual disdain smells of cheesesteaks and barbecue.
It's playoffs time, ladies and gentlemen, and we're about as excited as tweenies standing in line for the new Twilight movie.
Dallas has not had any trouble with Philadelphia this season -- a statement particularly true of last week's 24-0 drubbing -- and depending on who you listen to, therein lies the trouble. Dallas has never beaten a division rival thrice in a season. The Cowboys had a chance against Arizona in 1998 (20-7 Cardinals) and, of course, in 2007 against New York (21-17 Giants). But this historical caveat can be added onto a pile of trends the Cowboys hope to break Saturday night.
Pure reason might tell you that, very simply, Dallas is the better team. It has outscored Philadelphia 44-16 over two meetings this year and were better in every phase of the game last Sunday, dominating the line of scrimmage completely. What may keep Dallas fans up at night, however, is the knowledge that (a) this is a talented Eagles team and (b) they haven't really shown it against Dallas so far this season.
One can't help but think the Andy Reid-led Eagles will come into Arlington ready to throw everything at their division rivals, and to this end, Reid has excelled. He is 4-0 for his career in the wild card round of the playoffs. Wade Phillips is 0-4 over his career in playoff games.
But if any Cowboys team in recent memory can cast off the shackles of past failures, this may be the one. Beginning with an unlikely win in New Orleans, the Cowboys put to bed any talk of the "December swoon" with a (very) strong finish to the 2009 regular season. The defense seems to be reaching a rare level at exactly the right time, Romo is playing, probably, better than he ever has before, special teams are water-tight, and the running game has proven a reliable and potentially devastating weapon. Now the demons of recent playoff losses loom, waiting to be exorcised.
The question is -- for fans, coaches and certainly the Cowboys themselves -- "Do you believe?"