IF BUDDY RYAN is making predictions, it must be Dallas week again.
Uh, let's see . . . December . . . 23rd . . . surprise, surprise . . . Dallas at Philadelphia.
No one had to say, "Gentlemen, mortal enemies, start your Cowboys-Eagles pre-game tongues." They just did it this week, as if on cue.
"We're going to win," the Eagles' head handicapper said. "I don't know how yet. But I know we're going to."
Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson didn't go that far, the day after his 7-7 team extended its winning streak to four games by beating the Phoenix Cardinals.
"I like our chances, the way we're playing," he said.
Said Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman: "Playing and beating the Eagles on their home field is what it's all about."
Keith Byars, care to add anything? Go ahead, the floor's yours.
"We know what we want to do," the Eagles' running back said. "We want to play our first playoff game at home and we're going to hope Washington stumbles in the last two games and make sure we win ours. That's all the incentive we need. I'm sure Dallas will come up with something.
"They would like to finish the season with six in a row, and we're going to make sure they don't."
This might only get better as the week progresses. The "Buddy Board" in the Cowboys' locker room no doubt has been cleared of thumbtacks and prepared for fresh quotes or yellowed newspaper clippings from past encounters.
Ryan, we should point out, is 1-0 in Eagles-Cowboys predictions this year, and 7-1 against Dallas in non-strike games in his five years in Philadelphia.
The Eagles needed a 10-yard Randall Cunningham touchdown pass to Baltimore Dunbar graduate Calvin Williams with 44 seconds remaining and Roger Ruzek's point-after to gain a 21-20 victory at Texas Stadium back on Oct. 28. It closed a magnificent, 85-yard march that prevented the Eagles from falling to 2-5 and Ryan from falling, period.
It is the drive that turned around the Eagles' season 180 degrees. It catapulted Philadelphia to a five-game winning streak that included poundings of the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants.
The background is different for Eagles-Cowboys II. The Eagles, down and headed out in October, have established themselves as an NFC championship contender. Dallas is riding its longest winning streak since 1985, which also marks the last time a Dallas-Philadelphia meeting had playoff implications for both teams.
The Eagles, who sewed up their third consecutive playoff berth Sunday, still are after the home field for their NFC wild-card game. Dallas can make the playoffs for the first time since '85 by winning its last two games. The Cowboys finish at Atlanta.
Though he had little to say on the subject at his weekly news conference, nothing would be sweeter for Johnson than to return to Philadelphia and rub it in.
Last Dec. 10, the Cowboys' coach and his players -- in a disgraceful display by Veterans Stadium fans -- were pelted with snowballs and ice during a 20-10 Eagles victory in "Bounty Bowl II." After the game, Johnson said that he would be living for the day when the Cowboys could get even with the Eagles and their fans.
Three weeks earlier, Johnson accused Ryan of putting a bounty on then-Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas and Aikman during a 27-0 Eagles victory on Thanksgiving Day at Texas Stadium.
"They have a bad Thanksgiving Day," Ryan said this week, "and their coach, whatever his name is, instead of taking the heat for a bad game plan, he tried to make it a Bounty Bowl or something."
You knew this was going to rear its ugly head again. You just knew it, didn't you?
Johnson's someday is Sunday.
If Dallas wins, and Detroit beats Green Bay, the Cowboys will lock up the third wild-card berth and become the first team since the 1975 Baltimore Colts to go from last in the league to the playoffs.
"They know if they come in here and possibly get out with a victory, they have a great shot to get to the playoffs," said Ruzek, an ex-Cowboy, who carefully avoided taking any shots at his former team.
"To be honest, I wish we were playing the 49ers, to be honest with you. To see how really good we are. Dallas is a good team and you have to give them credit for this year, but I wish we had the 49ers on our schedule.
"We've beaten the Giants, the Redskins, all the powerhouses. I'd like to see how we match up against the 49ers."