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NFL Week 16: The playoffs (sort of) begin this weekend

[This is an excerpt from the Dec. 20 edition of the Yahoo Sports Read & React newsletter. To get the newsletter delivered every weekday morning to your inbox for free, tap right here.]

Good morning, friends. Ready for the playoffs?

Yes, technically, we’re still two weeks away from the NFL postseason. But for several teams — most notably the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys — the playoffs start right now. With all due respect to the Bengals, Falcons, Dolphins and the rest of the low-single-digit-win crew … you had your chance. Clear out and let the big dogs roam.

The Cowboys and Eagles meet Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, and it’s as close to a win-or-go-home game as you can get. Both teams are 7-7. If Dallas wins, Philly’s out. If Philadelphia wins, Dallas is mathematically alive … but the Eagles will hold a one-game edge with only the woeful Giants left on their slate. Granted, the Eagles and Cowboys are Ant-Man compared to the Thors and Hulks at the top of the NFC, but one of them’s still going to get a seat at the playoff table.

Dallas, winners of the last four games between the two teams, holds many tangible advantages here— they’re a 2.5-point favorite, per BetMGM, and they’re not nearly as banged-up and injury-ridden as Philadelphia. Plus — and this is a bit of a surprise — Eagles QB Carson Wentz has never actually played in a playoff game in his career. Nick Foles ain’t around anymore to save Philly; it’s all on Wentz’s shoulders now.

But let’s not count out Philadelphia quite yet. For starters, the game’s in Philly, and the freaks in the Linc stands will do their best to worm their way into Dallas’ earholes. (Dallas is 3-4 on the road, Philly is  4-3 at home, so it could be a wash.)

Plus, Dallas coach Jason Garrett is literally coaching for his job now. Garrett’s inherent risk-averse tendency isn’t serving the Cowboys well — scared money don’t make money — and don’t think his job won’t be on his mind if the Boys go down by two possessions or more.

Much like leftover pizza, Cowboys-Eagles won’t be pretty, but it’ll be worth it. Tune in Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox or the Yahoo Sports app.

(Yahoo Sports illustration by Amber Matsumoto)

A few more storylines you ought to know for this weekend:

Saturday football! No idea why Saturday NFL football is so much fun, but I love it. It’s like getting to open Christmas presents a day early. This year’s three-game Saturday slate includes Houston-Tampa Bay, Buffalo-New England and Rams-San Francisco. That’s worth skipping Christmas shopping for.

New England at risk? The Patriots have won every single division championship since 2003, with the exception of Brady-less 2008. But they look as vulnerable now as they ever have during the entire Brady-Belichick run, and the Bills are just one game behind. (You know the Patriots are going to find their spine and storm through the Super Bowl, but there’s always a  chance …)

Battle for the bye. Seattle and San Francisco, along with Green Bay and New Orleans, stand at 11-3 right now. They’ll all make the playoffs, but the Seahawks and the 49ers are angling hard to get that first-round bye. They face off next week, but leading up to that, both have to take care of business this week. Seattle plays Arizona, while the Niners draw the Rams. Advantage: Seahawks.

Pray for Cleveland. Somehow, some way, Cleveland bulldozed Baltimore back in Week 4, 40-25. Suffice it to say: Baltimore got better. So much better, in fact, that the Ravens haven’t lost since then. Look for Lamar Jackson and crew to go full Godfather on Cleveland and settle all outstanding family business before the playoffs.

And finally … this weekend marks the championship for most fantasy football leagues. Here’s hoping your season’s still alive. Me, I played in two money leagues and two free ones. Just take a wild freaking guess at the two in which I reached the championship game.

Enjoy double the football days, friends, and we’ll see you back here on Monday!

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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