Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The NFC East's third annual play-in
game is set for Sunday night in "Jerry World," and for the first time Tony
Romo is unlikely to be involved.
A day after the Cowboys' quarterback saved the team's season, Dallas was
forced to contemplate life without him when news surfaced that the three-time
Pro Bowl selection had a herniated disk in his back which could require
Trying to play the competitive advantage card, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and
general manager/owner Jerry Jones are still claiming Romo could make it back
for the winner-take-all showdown with the surprising Philadelphia Eagles.
"We'll evaluate him on a day-by-day basis and make the best decision for our
team," said Garrett.
Jones added on his radio show Tuesday that his quarterback has proven he can
play with pain but footnoted that with one important caveat.
"Tony will play with all the pain," Jones said. "But his doctor has to clear
Ask Aaron Rodgers about that particular hurdle.
For what it's worth Romo has already received an epidural injection to relieve
pain and reduce inflammation in the back, an indication he is doing whatever
is necessary to get back on the field for Sunday's game. The reality, however,
is that Romo is an extreme long shot to play and the team is moving on like he
will not be available.
"If you know Tony, you can't imagine what a competitor he is, and he doesn't
want to miss a snap," Jones said. "He was very disappointed, particularly
disappointed for his team, repeated over and over again, 'Jerry, I can't tell
you how badly I feel relative to you and relative to my teammates.'"
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis understands he still needs to prepare
for both Romo and Kyle Orton but the see-saw has tipped dramatically toward
the veteran backup.
"It does more when the quarterbacks are vastly different," Davis said when
asked about Dallas trying to create the illusion Romo could still give it a
go. "When there is one athletic runner that wants to run instead of throw. But
I think these two quarterbacks are similar (pass-first)."
Romo, of course, rallied Dallas to a 24-23 victory over the Washington
Redskins last Sunday after tweaking the back, throwing a touchdown pass to
DeMarco Murray with 1:08 remaining to keep the Cowboys' playoff hopes alive
after they trailed by nine points in the fourth quarter.
"I thought he did an amazing job fighting through the injury and giving us a
chance to win the game," Garrett understated.
The Cowboys (8-7) beat the Eagles (9-6) on Oct. 20 and now must do so again
with Orton to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season.
Dallas, thanks in large part to its dismal defense, was installed as 2 1/2-
point underdogs with Romo, a number that swelled to 7 1/2 when news of the
The 31-year-old Orton is no typical backup, however. He is an accurate passer
with the reputation of a good decision-maker.
Orton has authored plenty of success over the years and been around the block
a time or two, passing for 14,661 yards with 81 touchdowns and 57
interceptions with 69 career starts over his nine seasons. That said, Orton
hasn't seen significant playing time since 2011 so he needs all the
repetitions he can get in practice.
"We paid a lot of money several years ago for just this very circumstance,"
Jones said. "Kyle has a very strong arm, he's very experienced. If required,
he'll be able to step in and do as good under the circumstances as you could
And Davis expects it.
"I know Kyle Orton is a highly efficient quarterback," the Eagles' defensive
chief said. "He has a great presence and sees the field well. He's always
distributed the ball equally to the open guys. I think some guys have
favorites, some don't. Kyle Orton is a great system quarterback in that he
understands the coverage and what position in the routes, and he does a great
job of getting the ball out of his hands and accurately throwing to the open
A possible silver lining for the Cowboys is Romo's history of troubles in
December and his inability to beat the New York Giants in Week 17 two years
ago, and the Redskins last season with the NFC East on the line, a cross which
could have been too heavy to bear.
With Romo under center all the pressure of this game would be squarely on the
shoulders of the Cowboys. Now, it all shifts to the Eagles, who are expected
to dispose of a banged-up team without its QB, but need to understand this
change could help Dallas in some ways.
You can't compare Romo and Orton as players but the backup's lack of mobility
and his inability to extend plays and make something out of nothing like Romo
could force Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to temper their
pass-happy default settings and regress to a more conservative plan better
suited to attack Philadelphia's weaknesses.
"Tony Romo probably extends the play more than most in the NFL," Davis said.
"That is one of the talents that he has is when the initial play is broken
down to improvise. If he's healthy, we're ready for his best. And if Orton is
the quarterback, then we're ready for their best. We'll give them ours."
That best has limited opponents to 21 points-or-less in 10 of the past 11
games with the one hiccup coming in Minneapolis against the Vikings on Dec. 15
when Davis' unit allowed 48 points to a team playing without Adrian Peterson
and Toby Gerhart while relying on Matt Cassel at QB, a veteran with similar
attributes to Orton.
"We prepared," Davis said when addressing the Minnesota debacle. "We didn't
execute at the highest level we could have on that day. It wasn't because of
lack of preparation or poor preparation. It was somehow on some level, we just
didn't step up that night or that afternoon and get it done."
The obvious explanation is the Eagles took the limping Vikings for granted
begging the question could the same thing happen against a Romo-less Cowboys
"We have Kyle Orton here for a reason," Garrett said. "He understands what his
That role has morphed into what Romo hasn't been able to do the past two
seasons -- win the NFC East. Orton will be asked to take care of the football
with a heavy dose of Murray thrown in, a game plan that if successful would
keep the ball out of the hands of Philadelphia's high-powered offense.
"They might," Davis said when queried about the Cowboys possibly giving Murray
a bigger workload. "I believe they were going to do that. We were anticipating
them to do that anyway. But they might do more. Only they can answer that
question. We've got to prepare equally for the run game and the pass game.
"Each game takes on its own life."
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THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 17
Carolina (11-4) at Atlanta (4-11), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Panthers by 7
THE SKINNY: The Panthers clinched a playoff berth with last week's 17-13 come-
from-behind win over their NFL South rivals, the New Orleans Saints. Entering
Week 17, Carolina is in control for the division crown and a first-round bye,
needing only to beat Atlanta or a loss from the Saints at home against Tampa
Bay, an unlikely occurrence because NOLA is 7-0 at the Superdome. Carolina can
also secure home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win
combined with a Seattle loss and a San Francisco win.
Panthers QB Cam Newton is set to finish his third NFL season as the only
player in history with 50-or-more passing TDs (62) and 25-plus rushing scores
(28) over that span. Meanwhile, MLB Luke Kuechly had a record 24 tackles last
week against NOLA and has an NFL-high 310 since entering the NFL in 2012.
Atlanta signal caller Matt Ryan has performed well despite a disappointing
season overall for the Falcons and has 4,235 passing yards, his third
consecutive 4,000-yard season. Ryan is also 5-0 as a starter versus Carolina
at the Georgia Dome.
PREDICTION: Panthers 23, Falcons 14
Baltimore (8-7) at Cincinnati (10-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bengals by 6
THE SKINNY: The Bengals have captured the AFC North for the first time since
2009 while the Ravens are desperately hoping for a chance to defend their
Super Bowl championship by earning a wild-card spot. Baltimore, which has made
the postseason five consecutive years, is in with a win and a loss by either
San Diego or Miami. The Ravens can also clinch a playoff berth with losses by
Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati is 7-0 at Paul Brown Stadium and playing for a chance to earn a
first-round bye, which it will get with a win combined with a New England
Ravens QB Joe Flacco needs 280 passing yards to join Vinny Testaverde (4,177
in 1996) as the only players in franchise history to reach 4,000 in season.
His counterpart with the Bengals, Andy Dalton, has (4,015 passing yards and 31
TD passes and needs 117 more yards and two TD passes to set new team records
in both categories.
PREDICTION: Bengals 27, Ravens 20
Jacksonville (4-11) at Indianapolis (10-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Colts by 11 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Colts have won the AFC South and can still earn a first-round
bye with a win and losses by both New England and Cincinnati.
Indy's Andrew Luck registered his 21st career win over two seasons last week,
matching Dan Marino for the third-most wins by a starting QB over that span
during the Super Bowl era. Luck (7,914) also has the second-most passing yards
by a player in his first two seasons and needs only seven yards to pass Cam
Newton. Jacksonville started 0-8 but has won three consecutive on the road.
PREDICTION: Colts 23, Jaguars 13
NY Jets (7-8) at Miami (8-7), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Dolphins by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Dolphins are fighting for the AFC's final playoff spot and
their first postseason berth since 2008. Miami can qualify for the postseason
with a win and a Baltimore loss or with a win and a San
Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill (3,709) needs 291 passing yards to join Dan Marino
as the only players to register 4,000-yard seasons in franchise history. Jets'
pilot Geno Smith (2,856) has the most passing yards by any rookie in Jets'
PREDICTION: Dolphins 21, Jets 18
Detroit (7-8) at Minnesota (4-10-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Vikings by 3
THE SKINNY: The Vikings will close Mall of America Field with a meaningless
game against Detroit, which could serve as the swan song for both coaches,
Minnesota's Leslie Frazier and the Lions' Jim Schwartz. Superstars Adrian
Peterson and Calvin Johnson are both banged-up and could be shelved.
PREDICTION: Vikings 24, Lions 17
Washington (3-12) at NY Giants (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Giants by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: This could be the last game for embattled Redskins' coach Mike
Shanahan and likely will be the final contest for Washington linebacker London
Fletcher, who announced last Wednesday that this season is "99 percent" likely
to be his last. In 16 NFL seasons, Fletcher has transformed from an undersized
college free agent with the St. Louis Rams in 1998 to the league's record
holder for consecutive starts by a linebacker. Sunday is expected to be
Fletcher's 215th consecutive regular season start and his 256th consecutive
regular season game played.
PREDICTION: Giants 20, Redskins 14
Cleveland (4-11) at Pittsburgh (7-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 7
THE SKINNY: The Steelers, who defeated Green Bay 38-31 last week, are looking
for their fifth postseason berth in seven seasons under Mike Tomlin.
Pittsburgh can clinch a playoff berth with a win combined with losses by
Miami, Baltimore and San Diego.
During his career Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is 16-1 versus Cleveland,
including an 8-0 mark at Heinz Field.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Browns 13
Houston (2-13) at Tennessee (6-9), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Titans by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: Houston is in the midst of a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak
and will lock up the No.1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft with another
setback. The Titans conclude their season with the futures of head coach Mike
Munchak and injured quarterback Jake Locker in doubt.
PREDICTION: Titans 30, Texans 17
San Francisco (11-4) at Arizona (10-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 1 1/2
THE SKINNY: The 49ers, who clinched a playoff berth with Monday's dramatic win
over Atlanta, can
win the NFC West with a win and a Seattle loss. If Carolina also loses in that
scenario, San Francisco will earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC
The Cardinals stayed alive in the postseason chase with last week's 17-10
victory at Seattle. Arizona, which has won seven of its past eight games, can
secure a Wild Card berth with a win and a New Orleans loss.
Colin Kaepernick is 2-0 in his career versus Arizona with a 103.5 passer
rating, a key figure because San Fran is 12-0 when Kaepernick is over the
PREDICTION: Cardinals 23, 49ers 21
Green Bay (7-7-1) at Chicago (8-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
THE SKINNY: Win and you're in. The NFC North is at stake when the Packers
visit the Bears.
The winner will take home the division crown and advance to the postseason.
The loser will be eliminated.
Green Bay won't have star pass rusher Clay Matthews, who re-injured his thumb,
and will likely be without All-Pro QB Aaron Rodgers again but the Packers
still feel good about facing the Bears, who are coming off a 54-11 implosion
against Philadelphia in Week 16.
PREDICTION: Packers 28, Bears 17
Buffalo (6-9) at New England (11-4), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 9
THE SKINNY: The Patriots clinched the AFC East last week and can secure a
first-round bye with a win or losses by both Cincinnati and Indianapolis. With
a New England win and a Denver loss, the Patriots will earn the No. 1 seed in
New England has won 18 of its past 20 in December and Tom Brady is 44-7 as a
starter in the month. Brady, who has 11 division titles as the Pats' QB, the
most ever, is also attempting to surpass Dan Marino on the all-time wins list
among starting QBs (147).
PREDICTION: Patriots 24, Bills 16
Tampa Bay (4-11) at New Orleans (10-5), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 12 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Saints will earn a playoff berth with a win or an Arizona
loss. With a win and a Carolina loss, New Orleans will win the NFC South and
secure a first-round bye.
Saints QB Drew Brees has won four in a row versus Tampa Bay and needs 219
passing yards for his fourth career 5,000-yard season.
PREDICTION: Saints 34, Buccaneers 17
Denver (12-3) at Oakland (4-11), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 12
THE SKINNY: Denver has already clinched the AFC West and a first-round bye.
With a win or a New England loss, the Broncos will lock up the No. 1 seed in
the AFC and secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Broncos (572) need to score just 18 points against the Raiders to set a
new single-season NFL record. QB Peyton Manning is already the first player in
NFL history to pass for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs in same season.
PREDICTION: Broncos 34, Raiders 14
Kansas City (11-4) at San Diego (8-7), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Chargers by 9 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Chiefs have secured a wild-card spot and are locked into the
No. 5 seed in the AFC. The Chargers, who have won three in a row, will join
Kansas City in the postseason with a win combined with losses by both Miami
San Diego has won three consecutive games, the longest active streak in AFC
and is seeking its first postseason berth since 2009. The Chiefs have tied the
2008 Dolphins and the 2012 Colts for the most wins by team that won two or
fewer games in previous season and could rest some of their starters.
PREDICTION: Chargers 27, Chiefs 17
St. Louis (7-8) at Seattle (12-3), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Seahawks by 10 1/2
THE SKINNY: Seattle has the NFC's best record at 12-3 and can clinch the NFC
West, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs
with a win or a San Francisco loss. The Rams are headlined by the game's best
pass rusher Robert Quinn, who had three sacks last week and has 18 overall.
PREDICTION: Seahawks 24, Rams 14
Philadelphia (7-8) at Dallas (8-7), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 7
THE SKINNY: The final game of the 2013 regular season will be the "third
annual NFC East play-in game." The Eagles will visit the Cowboys with the NFC
East division title on the line. The winner advances to the postseason while
the loser's season comes to an end.
"The playoffs just start a week early for both teams," said Philadelphia head
coach Chip Kelly. "If you win, you get an opportunity to keep playing. If you
lose, you're going home. This is really just the first week of the playoffs."
PREDICTION: Eagles 28, Cowboys 17
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