Eagles fans cannot ask for much more than this: A Sunday night Week 17 affair with the Dallas Cowboys in prime time and the NFC East title on the line. And no Tony Romo.
The Cowboys on Friday confirmed reports from earlier in the week that Romo will miss the game and the rest of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back (see story).
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett will turn to 31-year-old backup QB Kyle Orton to potentially save his job.
The Cowboys have lost Week 17 games the last two seasons against the Redskins and Giants that decided the NFC East. The Eagles seek to make it three straight, and clinch their first playoff spot since 2010.
Here’s how the game’s being viewed from a national perspective with Orton starting:
Timing with Orton and his receivers will be huge, according to MMQB’s Peter King.
“The big thing for Dallas receivers will be getting used to Orton’s throws -- how he leads them, the velocity on the balls, who he prefers on certain routes versus different coverages,” King writes. “That’ll be a mystery until game time.”
King identifies tight end Jason Witten and running back DeMarco Murray as vital parts to the Cowboys’ offense Sunday night, but if Orton and superstar wideout Dez Bryant can’t connect, Dallas is in trouble.
“It’ll be a shame, obviously, and probably a game-killer for Dallas if Orton can’t find Dez Bryant two or three times down the field,” King said.
Hall of Fame QB and Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman believes Orton deserves more credit than he gets for how he’s played in the NFL, and that he’s been a fan of the Purdue product since he entered the league in 2005.
“I think he’s a smart guy,” Aikman told Norm Hitzges on SportsRadio KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM The Ticket, via The Dallas Morning News. “He doesn’t have this great arm, but he was at Purdue, where they threw the ball a lot.
“He’s not a caretaker. He’s regarded as that because of the system he played in, primarily at Chicago. That’s what they did, they did everything to protect the offense and play to their defensive strength, but he’s a guy who’s capable of playing in this league today, where the pass is so predominant, and I expect him to come out in this game and play well.”
As ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer pointed out, the Cowboys' offense will be without Romo's ability to extend the play.
“[Orton’s] not Romo,” Archer writes, “He cannot get away from trouble the way Romo can. He does not have Romo’s feel for the offense simply because he has not played as much. But he has experience. He is 35-34 as a starter.”
Orton's started 69 games in the NFL, and he's had some success. His best years were 2009 and 2010 with the Broncos, throwing for 3,802 and 3,653 yards respectively. In 2011, he was benched in Denver for Tim Tebow, then signed with the Chiefs after being cut by the Broncos. Those were his last days as a starter.
Now a backup, can the Cowboys win with Orton at quarterback?
"Yes, they can win," SportsDay Cowboys beat writer Brandon George said. "Orton is a solid backup quarterback. He'll give the Cowboys a chance. They held Philly to 3 points the last time they played. The defense will have to step up again if the Cowboys have any shot."
Indeed it will, as Dallas' defense allows the most yards per game (418.6), the sixth most rushing yards per game (127.9), and eighth most points per game (27.2).
If the Cowboys want to win the NFC East, they'll need a big game from their defense, more importantly pressuring Nick Foles.
"The last time these two clubs met in Philadelphia, I thought the game was won up front for the Cowboys with the amount of pressure that they were able to apply," Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com writes. "Not only the passing game but how they were able to handle things in the running game.
"For this squad to get a victory Sunday night, they are going to need that same kind of effort, and they'll need to find ways to play the Eagles' side of the line of scrimmage. As bad as Nick Foles was in that game last time, it was the defensive line that caused him the issues.
"Monte Kiffin and this defense need to attack this Eagles offensive line and make them have to scramble to sustain their blocks. To this point in time this season, that was the best game that they’ve played as a group when it came to getting off blocks and being where they needed to be with their responsibilities."