Reggie Roberts: The final week of the 2013 NFL season is littered with intrigue and suspense as division titles and playoff spots will be up for grabs. There is a game that will be played in Dallas on Sunday night that has generated a significant amount of interest in Philadelphia. Do the Eagles leave Dallas with the NFC East Division Championship in Coach Chip Kelly’s inaugural NFL season as head coach?
Ashley Fox: I think they will. The Cowboys likely are going to be without their best player on offense, quarterback Tony Romo, and their best player on defense, linebacker Sean Lee. Before last season, Dallas went out and signed Kyle Orton to a three-year, $10.5-million contract to be Romo’s backup, and while Orton certainly is capable, he hasn’t played a snap this season. It is going to be a lot to ask for him to keep up with the Eagles offense, which since Week 9 has averaged 34.6 points per game. And while the Cowboys held Philadelphia to just three points in a Week 7 win during which they knocked Eagles quarterback Nick Foles out of the game, they have proven to be the worst defense in football. Advantage Philly.
RR: With all due respect to the high-flying Seattle Seahawks, many NFL experts see the streaking San Francisco 49ers as the most complete team in the NFL. Do you agree with that assessment?
AF: I agree that the Niners certainly seem to be peaking at the most opportune time, having won their last five games by an average of 12.4 points per game. But I still like the Seahawks. Remember what they did to New Orleans on Monday Night Football? That was as dominant and complete of a performance against another playoff-caliber team that we’ve seen all season. I think what we’ve learned is that the NFC West top to bottom is the best division in football right now, which is why Arizona could go into Seattle and deliver the Seahawks first home loss in two years.
RR: Down in Atlanta, the Falcons conclude what has been an extremely disappointing season at home on Sunday against the 11-4 Carolina Panthers, who can claim the 2013 NFC South Division Championship with a win at the Georgia Dome. The Panthers have lost 5 straight games to the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, and haven’t recorded a road win in Atlanta since 2007. The Falcons would love nothing better than to run the streak to six games and keep the Panthers from winning the division. Do you see them getting that done?
AF: As a Falcons fan, which is worse: The Panthers winning the division or the Saints? That’s probably a tough call.
With all due respect to your Falcons, I expect Carolina to pull out a close one. There’s so much on the line. They’re playing not only for the division title but also a first-round bye and potentially home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Their defense also has been outstanding. They allow just 14.7 points per game, the fewest in the league, and rank second in yards allowed per game (300.9), first down percentage (17.2) and sacks (51). Like most teams, the Panthers are better at home than on the road (7-1 versus 4-3), and the Georgia Dome is a tough, loud place to play, but I think Carolina will win given what’s at stake.
RR: Green Bay heads to Chicago on Sunday with the winner of that game winning the NFC North Division title? Who do you like in this game?
AF: I think it’s going to be a slugfest. You know Aaron Rodgers is going to be rusty after not having played for nearly two months, but I would expect him to have a significant impact. I also think you’ll see the Packers try to run the ball. I was in Philly on Sunday night for the Bears-Eagles game, and I was struck by how lifeless Chicago was. They could have won the division that night and knocked the Packers out of it, but they didn’t. Philadelphia jumped on them early and the Bears never threatened. So having seen that, I don’t have particularly high expectations for Chicago against the Packers. I’ll say the Packers fly home with the division title.
RR: And finally, who would get your vote for NFL Coach of the Year. Arizona’s Bruce Arians, Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, or San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh?
AF: That’s a tough one, and I think you could even add New England’s Bill Belichick to that list, given all of the injuries the Patriots have suffered this season, losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo on defense and Rob Gronkowski on offense, among others.
I haven’t decided whom I’m going to vote for just yet – our ballots aren’t due until next week – but I’m going to have to give heavy consideration to Reid, who turned around a 2-14 team with a new quarterback and got players who had quit on their previous coach to really buy in to what he wanted them to do. Like Reid, Kelly turned around the Eagles in no time and did it even with instability at the quarterback position. And with the exception of one game, Foles has been terrific.