The race is on in the NFC East, but the Cowboys are now the team to beat

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The Philadelphia Eagles might still win the division race. All they have to do is win their last four games, and their remaining schedule is pillowy soft. But that thought might feel irrelevant to them at the moment.

Because what happened on Sunday night was clearly a changing of the guard.

Even though the defending NFC champions haven’t been dethroned yet, that feels like only a technicality — and maybe an inevitability — after what the Dallas Cowboys just did to them on national TV. They made a thundering statement with an emphatic 33-13 win over the Eagles, showing everyone that even though they’re both now tied atop the standings, it’s the Cowboys that are now the best team in the NFC East.

In fact, it’s the second time this season the Cowboys have played the Eagles and been the best team on the field.

They lost that first game in Philadelphia, of course — 28-23 back on Nov. 5 — though they out-played the Eagles that day too, and came just inches short of a win. But they more than made up for that at AT&T Stadium in Dallas by dominating the Eagles in every phase of the game.

It started, of course, with Dak Prescott, who has started it all for the Cowboys (10-3) in the seven-week roll they’ve been on since their bye week and might now be the favorite in the race for the NFL MVP. He had another terrific performance, completing 24 of 39 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns. And he not only led the Cowboys to three touchdowns on their four drives in the first half, he led them to points on seven of their nine possessions overall.

It helped that the Cowboys had the super leg of rookie kicker Brandon Aubrey, who hit both a 59- and a 60-yard field goal in this game (and two others from 50 and 45 yards). But the Cowboys kept moving the ball on Philly’s once-vaunted defense by spreading the ball all over the field. Prescott got contributions from CeeDee Lamb (6 catches, 71 yards, 1 touchdown) and tight end Jake Ferguson (5 catches, 72 yards). Even running back Tony Pollard chipped in with seven catches for 37 yards to go with his 59 yards rushing.

The Eagles defense really only got in their way once — early in the second half when defensive tackle Fletcher Cox sacked Prescott and knocked the ball from his hands. Philly’s rookie Jalen Carter picked the loose ball up and rumbled 42 yards for a touchdown — the Eagles’ only touchdown of the game.

It’s the first time the Eagles (10-3) didn’t score a touchdown on offense since 2019.

And the Eagles didn’t really come close to an offensive touchdown. Jalen Hurts struggled against the Cowboys defense (18 of 27 for 197 yards). The Cowboys secondary kept receivers A.J. Brown (9-94) and DeVonta Smith (5-73) mostly in check. 

Even worse for the Eagles: They fumbled the ball away three times. That included a fumble by Hurts at the Dallas 31 on the Eagles’ first drive of the game — Hurts’ fifth lost fumble and 15th turnover of the season. And it included a fumble by Smith at Dallas 35 with 6:38 remaining and the Eagles still having an outside chance at making it a game.

But they couldn’t, because they couldn’t handle the Cowboys’ pressure, solve the Cowboys coverage, or figure out any way to stop their offense in the air or on the ground. They were even out-muscled on both sides of the line of scrimmage — a domain where the Eagles win far more often than they lose.

All of that just adds to the perception — maybe even the reality — that these are two teams headed in opposite directions. The Cowboys have now won five straight games and six of their last eight. They’ve averaged 38.1 points in their seven games since the bye week.

Meanwhile, the Eagles, who once looked like they were ready to run away with the NFC again, have just lost the San Francisco 49ers and Cowboys in back-to-back weeks by a combined score of 75-32.

The good news for the Eagles is that they still control their own destiny in the NFC East because if they win out, the worst they can do is tie for first place and they’ll own the tie-breakers over the Cowboys. And winning out is a real possibility given who they still play — the Seattle Seahawks (6-7), the Arizona Cardinals (3-10) and the New York Giants (4-8) twice. They’ve got plenty of time to get right again in time for the playoffs. They can still end up with a home game — maybe even the No. 1 seed in the conference too.

But they can not, they will not, feel as invincible as they did last season when they were clearly the class of the division and the conference. Forget for a moment what happened against the 49ers last week. There’s no way the Eagles can look at what happened against the Cowboys and feel like they’re the better team.

So as they look up at the standings at the Cowboys, even if it’s only temporary, they ought to take a really close look. Because the Cowboys now look like the power in the division and a real obstacle in the way of the Eagles’ quest for a second straight Super Bowl. It’s not something anyone outside of Dallas was expecting when the Cowboys were struggling earlier this season.

But the Cowboys are back. They’re good. And they look like a real Super Bowl contender. So even if they do end up in first place when the season is over, the Eagles have to know that beating the Cowboys is an uphill battle now.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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