NFC East showdown: Do Eagles or Cowboys have the better roster?

ByMatt Bowen, Rob Demovsky, Tim McManus ESPN logo
Thursday, December 22, 2022

Some of the hype surrounding Saturday's NFC East game between the 10-4Dallas Cowboys and 13-1Philadelphia Eagles has lessened because it's unclear whether star Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurtswill play afterspraining his right shoulderSunday.

But the game still matters.

Not only can the Eagles clinch the NFC East with a win but also home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A victory for the Cowboys would keep their faint division title hopes alive and potentially reassert themselves as true Super Bowl contenders.

Which team has the better roster heading into Saturday's game (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)? Eagles reporter Tim McManus and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer break down each position group, while ESPN analyst Matt Bowen picks a position-by-position winner.

Here's a look:


Cowboys: The Cowboys are 6-2 since Dak Prescott's return, and both losses were in overtime. But he has a nagging interceptions issue -- 11 in nine starts after throwing 10 all of last season. He needs to get that fixed if the Cowboys are going to make a playoff run.

Eagles: Jalen Hurts' rapid growth as a passer has put opposing defenses in a bind. Favor the ground game, and he'll beat you through the air (No. 1 in the NFL in QB rating at 108.4 and TD/INT ratio at 7.33 entering Week 15). Try to take away the pass, and he'll chew you up on the ground. Hurts is the MVP front-runner for a reason. The big question now is whether he or backup Gardner Minshew will start Saturday.

Bowen's take: Hurts has the edge. He might miss this week's game because of a sprained right shoulder, but his progression as a thrower when healthy, in addition to being a dual threat as a runner, sets him apart from Prescott. With his lower-body strength and body frame (6-foot-1, 223 pounds), the Eagles can run power game with their quarterback, and he can get to the edge as well. In the pass game, his eye level is so good. Always up, even when bodies are around him.

Running backs

Cowboys: In Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys have one of the best backfield duos in the NFL -- maybe even the best. Pollard has more touchdowns this season (11) than he had in his first three seasons combined. Elliott might not reach 1,000 yards after missing two games because of a knee injury, but he is healthy for the stretch run and has scored at least one rushing touchdown in seven straight games.

Eagles: Miles Sanders is enjoying the best season of his career, already posting highs in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. In a contract year and out for respect, Sanders has been a more physical runner. That and good health have made all the difference. Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell have split snaps in relief of Sanders and have been generally productive, but it has been Sanders' show.

Bowen's take: It's the Cowboys. With the split-backfield approach Dallas has, it can attack you in multiple ways. Elliott is one of the best red zone, goal-line runners. He can push through contact and be productive, even with a decline at the second level. Plus, he's a solid asset in the passing game. Pollard can be deployed in multiple ways in the passing game, flexed from the formation. Elliot is a downhill hammer with a high scoring upside, and Pollard is a home run threat.

Wide receivers

Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb has shown he can be a No. 1 receiver, but the production of the rest of the group needs to pick up. Michael Gallup has come on lately, as he recovers further from his torn left ACL. Noah Brown has exceeded expectations. James Washington has played in just two games. T.Y. Hilton was signed last week, and free agent Odell Beckham Jr.remains an option,so that says the Cowboys know they need more from their receivers.

Eagles: This is arguably the best receiver group the Eagles have ever had. A.J. Brown needed just 13 games to eclipse the 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown mark. DeVonta Smith, meanwhile, has been neck and neck with Brown all season for the team lead in receptions. Speedy wideout Quez Watkins also upped his production in the absence of tight endDallas Goedert.

Bowen's take: Eagles. In Smith, they have a receiver with dynamic traits, vertical ability and route-running skill. Brown can play through contact at all three levels of the field. He can work underneath, and is great after the catch and strong at the point of attack. He can separate. And you have to mention Watkins. He has big-play juice.

Tight ends

Cowboys: This group might be the key to the offense. The Cowboys love to run multiple tight end looks with Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot and Sean McKeon. After a slow start, Schultz has come on as Prescott's security blanket. Ferguson, who is coming back from a concussion, is a top-end blocker and can make plays out wide.

Eagles: Goedert was playing like a top-three tight end before a shoulder injury suffered against the Washington Commandersin Week 10 landed him on IR. A group led by Grant Calcaterra and Jack Stollhas filled in adequately in his absence, but there's no replacing Goedert. A top-end blocker and receiver, this offense is that much more dynamic when he's in the mix.

Bowen's take: Go with Schultz. He is a very good tight end. If you're ranking them in tiers, he's probably in the middle tier of No. 1 tight ends. He's a seam-stretcher. He can be rugged at the catch, and he's slippery after the catch. He can give you multiple ways to miss in the open field. He's a big body and creates high-percentage throws.

Offensive lines

Cowboys: With questions up front to start the season, this group has exceeded expectations, although losing right tackle Terence Steele is a blow. Having Pro Bowler Tyron Smith returning from injured reserve is a bonus no other team has, and he could slide to right tackle full time this week. Rookie Tyler Smith has settled in nicely at left tackle. The run blocking has been excellent. The pass protection will be tested down the stretch.

Eagles: This is arguably the best offensive front in football, led by center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson, who has allowed one sack this season, tied with Tristan Wirfs for fewest allowed by an offensive tackle in 2022 (minimum 10 starts), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. As a group, they rank second in run block win rate (75%) and ninth in pass block win rate (64%). The Eagles entered Week 15 averaging 162.2 rushing yards per game, tied for second most in the NFL.

Bowen's take:I have to go with Philly. Its offensive line is best in the NFL with big, powerful movers up front. The highlight is Kelce and Johnson. What Kelce can do is unmatched. He's so gifted in terms of movement, lower-body control and foot quickness, and his football intelligence is off the charts. Johnson, another lineman with that foot quickness, is so impressive with his pass sets, and also with the ability to climb and move.

Defensive lines

Cowboys: This is their deepest position, especially since Micah Parsons has been an edge player for most of the past month. Eight defensive linemen have recorded at least one sack. DeMarcus Lawrence remains their best overall edge player. Dorance Armstrong is second to Parsons (13) in sacks with eight. Their interior depth took a hit when Johnathan Hankins suffered a pectoral strain. Jacksonville's run game ate up Dallas last week, so Philly will be a big test.

Eagles: This veteran group added more experience to the mix by signing Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph back in November. That has reduced the workload forJavon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox, and they're benefitting from fresher legs. Haason Reddick, playing a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role, has given coordinator Jonathan Gannon's defense a huge boost since being signed in free agency during the offseason.

Bowen's take: It's a tie. How do you pick? Philadelphia is versatile up front in terms of edge guys with Reddick and Sweat. Both are dynamic with first-step quickness, but they're different styles of edge rushers. Hargrave is having a great season in a contract year and is going to get paid. With Dallas, Parsons is up there with the top players in the league. First-step quickness, short-area acceleration, his closing speed might be the best in the league, and his hand usage is really developed for a young player.


Cowboys: Leighton Vander Eschwas playing his best football since his rookie season but suffered a neck injury at Jacksonville that will sideline him Saturday. Anthony Barr has filled a role that has gotten bigger with Parsons' move to the line. Rookie Damone Clark has gone from not being expected to play as a rookie because of neck surgery to somebody the Cowboys feel comfortable counting on in any situation. Hurts will test this group in the run game, and they will have to get off blocks.

Eagles: Kyzir White(signed to a one-year deal in free agency during the offseason) and fourth-year player T.J. Edwards have made for a solid linebacker tandem. They're the top two tackles on the team. Rookie Nakobe Dean has made the most of his limited opportunities, including six tackles in 15 defensive snaps against the Tennessee Titansin Week 13.

Bowen's take: Dallas. When healthy, Vander Esch has made a lot of plays for that defense and can be a downhill hammer. Barr was a very good pickup. Someone like that has second-level range and coverage traits, and can play in space. You need those guys on your defense if you're coordinator Dan Quinn. Barr might not be at the same level he was in Minnesota, but he's a glue guy to that defense.

Defensive backs

Cowboys: They lost corners Jourdan Lewis, in October, and Anthony Brown, in December. Trevon Diggs has played at a high level but without the picks. DaRon Bland has filled in ably for Lewis in the slot and can play outside. They believe they have had their best safety play since Darren Woodson, with Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson.

Eagles: Philly's secondary has dealt with its share of injuries. The big one was to safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who remains sidelined by a lacerated kidney. But the unit has remained stingy in the passing game. The cornerback duo of Darius Slay and James Bradberry has been the driving force behind the high-end play.

Bowen's take: Philly. Look at what defensive coordinator Gannon has done this season. Last year, his system was quarters-based. This year, the system is much more multiple. Cornerbacks Bradbury and Slay can match up with anyone in the NFL, and both create on-the-ball production.

Special teams

Cowboys: Brett Maher has missed just one kick inside 59 yards this season. Bryan Anger has been solid, although he has more touchbacks (six) this season than last year. Returner KaVontae Turpin can flip field position in a hurry, and the Cowboys' coverage teams have been top notch.

Eagles: Whether it's getting beat on a fake punt or giving up big yardage on kickoff returns, few weeks have gone by without some kind of error. Now they're dealing with the loss of punter Arryn Siposs to an ankle injury.

Bowen's take: Dallas. Elliott is a good kicker, but losing your punter at this point of the season does impact you a little bit. I'll give it to Dallas because of Turpin.