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Eagles control their own playoff hopes

Monday - 11/25/2013, 6:13pm  ET

ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- While the Philadelphia Eagles rested, they lost their hold on the NFC East.

The Dallas Cowboys (6-5) moved into a first-place tie with the Eagles (6-5) following their 24-21 win over the New York Giants on Sunday and set up a potential winner-take-all season finale at home against Philadelphia on Dec. 29.

But there are four important games before that one.

The Eagles return from their bye to host the Arizona Cardinals (7-4) this Sunday. The Cowboys are home against Oakland (4-7) on Thanksgiving Day. So Philadelphia can go from first to second place in a four-day span without playing a game.

Dallas holds the current tiebreaker advantage because of its 17-3 win over the Eagles last month. The Cowboys also have the edge in the second tiebreaker because they're 4-0 in the division while the Eagles are 3-2.

If the two teams have the same record going into Week 17, it's simple. The winner takes the division crown. If the Cowboys are one game behind the Eagles, they'd win the division with a victory because they would have swept the season series. If the Cowboys are one game ahead of the Eagles, it gets tricky. It's possible they would already have clinched the NFC East title at that point.

The key game that could determine the division before the Cowboys-Eagles matchup is Dallas at Washington in Week 16. A victory for the Cowboys would secure a better division record so they'd beat out the Eagles if the teams ended the season tied.

However, if the Cowboys lose to the Redskins, it would come down to record against common opponents. The Eagles currently have that advantage. They're 5-4 with games against Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago remaining. The Cowboys are 3-5 with games against Oakland, Washington, Chicago and Green Bay left.

Both teams play three of their final five games at home. The Cowboys are 4-1 at their $1.2 billion stadium. The Eagles are 1-4 at Lincoln Financial Field, having just snapped a franchise-worst 10-game home losing streak.

Only two of the Cowboys' remaining opponents currently have a winning record and they're a combined 24-29-1. The Eagles face four teams that currently have winning records and they're 27-27-1.

Both teams control their playoff fate. If either team wins out, it's guaranteed the NFC East title. A wild-card berth is also a possibility for both teams. The Cardinals hold the second spot, pending the outcome of San Francisco's game against the Redskins on Monday night. The 49ers are 6-4.

The Eagles would put themselves in a favorable position in the wild-card standings with a victory over Arizona this week because they would hold the tiebreaker advantage. They also have a better conference record than San Francisco, should they end up tied with the Niners.

All of these scenarios make for an interesting final month. It's an accomplishment the Eagles are even in playoff conversations.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding season under first-year coach Chip Kelly. But the Eagles have exceeded expectations. An offense led by Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson has been excellent. The defense has improved dramatically since the first month. Now, they won't settle for less than playing in January.

"We put ourselves in a situation where those five games in December are meaningful," Kelly said. "We'll do the same thing we do all the time. We're going to pick our heads up on December 29 to figure out where we are."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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