ARLINGTON, Texas — Almost completely out of character for Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner has publicly expressed fear about facing Philadelphia again after what happened earlier this season.
Dallas (8-6) is the only team that doesn't need help to win the NFC East, and the outcome of the game may end up having no effect at all on who does.
Star-studded Philadelphia, anointed by many in the preseason as a team with Super Bowl expectations and sure to defend its division title, now harbors only long-shot playoff chances that could be gone before kickoff at Cowboys Stadium on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.
Since the Eagles (6-8) failed to parlay an impressive 34-7 victory over Dallas nearly two months ago into something much more significant, they would be eliminated from postseason contention if the New York Giants beat the Jets earlier in the day.
"I don't worry about it," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "If you let all that other garbage get in the way, then you don't go through the process of preparing for the Dallas Cowboys. ... And if you worry about all that other stuff, that doesn't help you. You can't control that."
Despite any possible anxiety by Jones, who later characterized his feelings as an exciting time that "carries with it all the emotion of what's at stake for us," there is another strange twist if the Giants (7-7) win.
Not only would the Eagles' playoff hopes be officially dashed, likely changing their entire demeanor, the outcome of the game for Dallas would be rendered meaningless in determining the NFC East title. The division champion would then be the winner of the regular-season finale between the Cowboys and Giants.
"We're focused on playing our best game against Philadelphia, and we won't really get emotionally involved in that (Giants-Jets) game," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Plus, if the Giants lose to the Jets, who lost 45-19 to Philadelphia last week, Dallas would have the opportunity to wrap up its 18th NFC East title before the home fans instead of having to worry about what happens New Year's Day at MetLife Stadium.
So there could be a lot of scoreboard watching for both sides during pregame warm-ups at Cowboys Stadium, when the Giants and Jets will be playing their game.
Or maybe not.
"We don't think anything other than just playing these guys this week. It's literally nothing less or more than that," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "We're out here to beat the Eagles. That's all we can control."
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick figures he will at least have an eye on the Giants-Jets score.
"But you try to stay away from watching it," Vick said. "You can't get too wrapped up in it."
Regardless of what happens in the New York game, the Cowboys have a chance to avenge their most-lopsided setback in a season otherwise filled with close losses. Their other five losses are by an average margin of four points, the largest a six-point overtime loss.
When Philadelphia wrapped up that rout at home against the Cowboys on Oct. 30, both teams were 3-4 and two games behind the Giants.
"We just didn't play well. We know we have to play better and execute," linebacker Bradie James said. "For a fan and a competitor, this is a game you want to play in. We have things on the line. This is what it's about."
Especially after last season, when like Philadelphia this year, the Cowboys started with Super Bowl expectations only to falter early.
This year's division standings got scrambled when the Eagles lost four of their next five games after beating Dallas, which later swept through four November games undefeated. The Giants lost the division lead by dropping five of their last six games, the only win coming two weeks ago at Cowboys Stadium.
NFC rushing leader LeSean McCoy had a career-high 185 yards with two touchdowns for Philadelphia in that Sunday night rout earlier this season. Vick threw two TDs as Philadelphia piled up 495 total yards and held the ball more than 42 minutes after new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had referred to the Eagles before the season as the "all-hype team" and predicted his squad would thoroughly dominate them.
"I think it'll be a lot different because they're a better team. Each year, teams progress and they get better and better as the year goes on," receiver Jason Avant said. "They've been playing winning football. Even in some of the games that they've lost, they've played really well. The old game that we had is definitely out the window, we have to come out and play a different team, with a different mindset."
Philadelphia is coming off a dominating victory over the Jets, who are coached by Ryan's twin brother, Rex. But the Eagles are now big fans of the New York team in the AFC.
"We all are for the right reasons," Vick said.
While Jones is excited about what good could happen for the Cowboys, there is still that uneasy anticipation.
"Because it is the Eagles, after the butt-kicking they gave us up in Philadelphia, I'm scared," the owner said during one of his regular radio appearances this week. "I have that kind of feeling about the respect turns into being afraid of what they can do to you if you have some breakdowns out there. You can put that scared in there if you want to. I think sometimes I do the best when I'm scared."
Then again, Jones and the Cowboys might not have anything to worry about.