While not as profound as the nature versus nurture debate, the Dallas Cowboys face an interesting and potentially very impactful decision over the next two weeks. Do they go the Bill Belichick way and play their starters, make sure they fight till the end and mentally stay in the FIGHT mantra till the seconds tick off in Philadelphia? Or, do they take the conservative, injury-free route and rest their key starters over the next two games because ultimately, the outcome has been decided and objectively, there is nothing on the line for the Dallas Cowboys. Win, and they become 13- or 14-game winners, and lose, they remain 12-game winners. Either way, they have won the NFC East, secured a first-round bye and have home field throughout the playoffs.
While this debate started Thursday night after the Giants lost to the Eagles, a new wrinkle occurred today that ultimately supports many of the voices that have called for the Cowboys to rest their starters. Given that Tennessee and Oakland did not have the luxury to coast during the last two weeks of the season, they prepared for today’s games as do-or-die with their entire squad. Unfortunately, as we now know, Marcus Mariota and David Carr are likely done for the year with their respective lower extremity injuries. This devastating blow creates ripples across each of their respective teams, their division and ultimately their competition in the playoffs. The Titans had a marvelous chance to win their division and secure the fourth seed in the playoffs and the Raiders were playing the best football they have played since their surprising run to the Super Bowl over 15 years ago. More importantly, Mariota and Carr represented the youth initiative in the AFC and precociously drove their teams nearly to the top of their divisions this season. While we know that football is a violent sport, and players do get hurt, it is hard to see a pair of young studs get injured during week 16 of the NFL season with the playoffs just a stones throw away.
In light of today’s experiences, I think it shifts the debate to resting Dallas’ key starters. Here is a more detailed suggestion for Jason Garrett and the Joneses.
Monday Night Football at home against the Detroit Lions will be fun for the Dallas Cowboys. Until Thursday, the team prepared for the game as if it was a must win. Regardless of the early Christmas present they got from the Eagles, the Cowboys should play all their starters throughout the first half with the exception of Jason Witten and Sean Lee, the de facto on-the-field coordinators. The second half of the Lions game should consist of a steady dose of backups while Dak, Zeke and much of the offensive line take a backseat. It will also allow Tony Romo to get on the field experience which he has not had since Thanksgiving 2015.
The following week, the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia in what will likely be a snowy, cold afternoon. While having to play for nothing is already enough reason to sit the starters, having to play against a division rival, in their home, in the cold, makes this decision obvious. Jason Garrett should rest as many of the offensive players as possible but most certainly not play Dak, Zeke, Dez and as much of the offensive line as possible. While I like Mark Sanchez as much as the next guy, this is the time to put Sanchez in and save Romo for a real situation in case Dak goes down in the playoffs. Throwing Romo in Philly without his offensive line is poor form for an otherwise classy front office.