NFL Predictions: Can Tampa Bay Beat Dallas and Help the Eagles?

The Eagles long ago forfeited the ability to control their own destiny over the season’s final weeks. They simply didn’t earn the right. And though their playoff hopes remain alive, such hopes can be considered no better than on life support. In fact, by the time the Eagles and Jets kick-off at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon, it could all be over for this mess of a team.

The good news, if there is any at this point, is that if by some miracle the Eagles can survive the weekend, it becomes exponentially more possible that they could sneak into the postseason.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the help they’re going to need to reach the postseason doesn’t look all that ready, willing, or able. So let’s break down the first of this weekend’s three games that will determine the Eagles’ fate.

Cowboys at Buccanneers: Dallas is coming off a brutal loss to the Giants in which they surrendered a 12-point lead with just under four minutes remaining in the final quarter. Tony Romo overshot a wide open Miles Austin, and Rob Ryan’s defense folded in the game’s waning moments which allowed New York to escape Dallas with an improbable win. That’s two hideous losses in the last two weeks for the Cowboys, but if they plan to win the NFC East they’re going to need a short memory. And a really bad opponent.

Whether or not the Cowboys can get out of their own over the last three weeks remains to be seen, but they sure do appear to be playing the right team at the right time. All of the positive vibes emanating out of Tampa at the end of last season are long gone. The Buccanneers are disaster of a football team. Their 4-9 record doesn’t adequately explain how painfully brutal they have been. Once considered a legitimate contender in a three-horse race for the NFC South crown, the Bucs regressed in almost every way imaginable this season. Josh Freeman has been horrible. The ground game has been inconsistent. And a formidible defense in 2010 has been anything but through this season’s first 13 games.

So this isn’t exactly an ideal situation for the Eagles.

Dallas is a 7-point favorite, but this isn’t as bad of a spot for the Eagles at it looks on paper. Tampa Bay is coming off their most embarrassing loss of the season, a 41-14 loss to a hapless Jacksonville team. Tampa returns home this weekend to play in front of a national audience in what will be their last showcase game of the season. If the Bucs have any sense of self-respect, they should come out swinging in this one.

Josh Freeman, for his part, sounds fired up about a chacne to knock off Dallas.

“Dallas is kind of on the bubble right now, what are they, 7-6?” Freeman said. “So I can’t think of anything happier than to go out and get a win this week and that may put a damper on their hopes.”

Sounds good to me.

And here’s the thing that really helps the Eagles–Dallas isn’t a good football team. The Cowboys are only 2-4 on the road this season (Tampa is 3-4 at home) and they just lost their leading rusher in DeMarco Murray. Just how important of a loss is Murray? He averaged 137.4 yards per game in Dallas’ last five victories. How do they plan to replace that? Certainly, Tony Romo will have some success against a pass defense that ranks twenty-seventh in the league, but can he keep his cool in tight spots without a solid run game to support him? History tells us that the answer is “no.”

What’s more, their defense is terrible. Not average. Terrible. Ryan’s unit is ranked twenty-fourth against the pass and has given up 24 points or more in five different games this season. Despite an overall poor performance this season, Tampa does average 230 yards passing per game, so they should be able to move the ball against Dallas.

This game has just has that feel, doesn’t it? There will be lots of bettors putting their money down on a Dallas team that “has to win” in a primetime affair. And I think those bettors are about to get burned.

Dallas can’t close. They’ve blown four fourth quarter leads this season, and in Jason Garrett’s nine career regular season losses, his team has blown a fourth quarter lead in eight of them. I think this is a good spot for Tampa, and I have a sneaking suspicion Jerry Jones will be answering more questions after the game about the future of head coach Jason Garrett. I’m taking Tampa Bay, 31-26.

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