Philly vs. Dallas: More Than NFC East at Stake

Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton's "First and 10" column takes you around the league, with a look at the best game of the week, followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 16.

First ... Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Given up for dead in the playoff race after Donovan McNabb blew out his knee, the Eagles weren't on the radar for weeks.

That's why their Christmas Day game against the Cowboys is the ultimate present to Eagles fans. First, a win puts Philadelphia in position to be the surprise winner of the NFC East. Second, a victory could leave the Cowboys and Terrell Owens, the Eagles' archenemy, scrambling into the playoffs as a wild card.

Losing to the Eagles could be another stake in the heart of Owens and his future in Dallas. Jerry Jones, admittedly citing desperation, signed Owens to make a difference on the team. He was supposed to be a threat on the other side of Terry Glenn and make it easier for Drew Bledsoe to succeed as a quarterback. Owens sabotaged Bledsoe with dropped passes and snide comments, leading to the rise of Tony Romo as a quarterback.

Bill Parcells' hands-off approach to Owens saved the locker room from internal damage. He's ignored Owens' sideline tantrums and treated him like a stranger. Smart move. Owens has complained how he feels alone in the locker room. Well, if you don't want to be a teammate, how do you expect the team to embrace you?

If the Cowboys can't clinch the NFC East because of a loss to the Eagles, it would be another sign to Jones to just let Owens go at the end of the season. Parcells is hinting he wants to come back for another year. Although he's not said anything, it's pretty apparent from the way he talks he's going to demand that Owens is elsewhere next season.

All Jones has to do is look at the Eagles. They've come together as a team because they don't have Owens. They've rallied around quarterback Jeff Garcia, one of the quarterbacks Owens trashed before he turned on McNabb.

Credit Andy Reid for adjusting his game. With McNabb at quarterback, Reid called way too many passes. He failed to develop a running offense even though Brian Westbrook is one of the most talented runners in the game.

With Garcia at the helm, the Eagles are running 45 percent of the offensive downs. They are doing more with less. If they beat the Eagles, it will be an education for Jones.

Hey, Jones was only doing what the Eagles tried. They thought Owens was the difference maker who could take them from the championship round to the Super Bowl. As they look back, they might have made the Super Bowl without him. They remember now Owens was hurt during the playoffs of their Super Bowl year. He came back to play in a Super Bowl game that they lost.

The next year, Owens tore apart the locker room. Now, they are together.

If the Cowboys get only a wild-card berth because they lost to a galvanized Eagles' team, Jones might realize Owens wasn't as much a difference maker as he thought.

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