In the most unlikely scenario possible, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys will meet this week to decide the fate of the NFC East Division using quarterbacks who started the season on the bench.
Dallas’ Tony Romo already has guided his team to a playoff berth after taking over for Drew Bledsoe and left-for-dead Jeff Garcia has resurrected his career with the Eagles in the absence of Donovan McNabb.
If the Cowboys (9-5) beat the Eagles on Christmas Day, they take the division. If the Eagles (8-6) win and beat Atlanta in their regular-season finale, they take the East.
Bill Parcells, the Cowboys’ famously cantankerous coach, actually celebrated his team’s accomplishments this week, saying he was "really proud" of his team, which clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Romo’s ascension to the starting role midway through the season coincided with his team’s rise to legitimate NFC championship contender.
"We’re in the race now," Parcells said. "We’ll be in it until the last day."
While Parcells is typically tight-lipped, especially after humbling losses like the one his team suffered two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints, his players are talking championship.
"Championship teams, the ones that really have a chance come January, bounce back and win," said Romo, whose played earned the career backup a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Meanwhile, Garcia has become an unlikely star. The Eagles looked kaput when McNabb tore his anterior cruciate ligament Nov. 19 in a loss to Tennessee. Since then, though, Garcia has gone 3-1 as a starter.
"It has been a lot of fun," Garcia said. "I really was not thinking that this could happen for me."
Eagles coach Andy Reid has guided his team to four NFC title games. He sounds like he is ready to go to battle with Garcia at the helm.
"When you lose a guy that is a potential MVP of the National Football League, it’s hard to fill those shoes," Reid said of replacing McNabb. "Jeff has done a great job, but I think that everybody around Jeff has also picked their game up — on the offensive side and on the defensive side and guys on special teams and coaches."
Reid said his players are looking for a holiday feast.
"I talked to them a little bit after [Sunday’s] game and to look at it like going to Dallas was like a Christmas present," Reid said.