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Cowboys at Football Team: Writer predictions for critical division clash

This game could prove to be the turning point in the NFC East race.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

One of the NFL’s most historic rivalries exists between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Football Team, and this Sunday we’ll get the latest installment of that rivalry in a game that could end up being a pivotal moment in the NFC East race. Dallas snapped a two-game losing streak last Thursday by beating the Saints, but this will be their first of four divisional matchups over their remaining five games.

Mike McCarthy, who returns to the sidelines after missing the Saints game, expressed high confidence in his team by saying he thought they would win Sunday. It sure seems like his players have just as much confidence, too.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott appreciates McCarthy’s confidence, though. When asked whether he supports his coach’s win guarantee, Dallas reporter Clarence Hill tweeted that Prescott had a clear, two-word response: “S--- yeah.”

Echoed receiver Amari Cooper after hearing of McCarthy’s claim: “Of course man, we’re gonna go out there and get the W.”

So the Cowboys feel good about getting a win in the nation’s capitol this week. Do our writers feel the same?

When Washington has the ball

Be aggressive and opportunistic in coverage

Credit is due to the Washington offensive coaches. After losing four in a row to head into their bye week at 2-6, offensive coordinator Scott Turner adjusted his approach with young quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who was pushed into starting duties when Ryan Fitzpatrick got hurt in the season opener.

Since the bye week, Washington has rattled off four straight wins, and Heinicke’s improved play has been a big part of that. In each of the last four weeks, Heinicke has been in the top 12 of quarterbacks in QBR. He’s done it by playing carefully and taking his time - literally. During this win streak, Heinicke has been near the top of the league in time to throw while being near the bottom in completed air yards.

In other words, Heinicke has been playing better by not rushing his throws and not taking chances. That plays into the Cowboys’ plans, as they call man coverage looks at one of the highest rates in the NFL. They’ve already returned DeMarcus Lawrence last week, and both Randy Gregory and Neville Gallimore are expected back for this one too. Combining those guys with Micah Parsons’ versatile pass-rushing ability, Heinicke will have to start speeding up his process again. And if he doesn’t have time for receivers to get open against these pressing corners, we may see Dallas’ penchant for takeaways continue.

When Dallas has the ball

Get Dak Prescott rolling early

This isn’t just about preferring the efficiency of the pass play to the run play, although that is a factor. There’s also the fact that Tony Pollard is questionable for this game with a torn plantar fascia while Ezekiel Elliott has been playing with a banged up knee the last few games. Add to all of that Washington’s success in run defense - they rank eighth in run defense DVOA - and there should be little reason to think that pounding the rock is a good idea this week.

On the flip side, Washington’s secondary has been pretty terrible all year. In addition to ranking 30th in pass defense DVOA, they’re giving up the sixth-most first downs through the air, fifth-most net yards per pass attempt, and the most touchdown passes all year.

Then you factor in that Dak Prescott will have his talented receiver trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb all fully healthy for, realistically, the first time all season. That’s a lot of firepower for a struggling secondary, and Prescott has routinely played some of his best ball against this franchise too. His only loss to Washington came on that phantom snap infraction call in the 2018 season. Get Dak rolling with his weapons early, and this has a chance to be over by halftime.

Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...

Tom Ryle:

The running back situation is not ideal, but with Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup all at or near full health, I don’t think it will matter that much. And those defensive reinforcements should pay off right away. Look for Dak to get back on track, Joe Philbin to get the O line working better, and Taylor Heinicke to be running for his life while the WFT run game is held in check.

Give me Dallas 34-19 for a near lock on the division.

Terence Watson:

Rivalry week has arrived and the Dallas Cowboys are looking to land a serious blow to The Washington Football Teams playoff hopes. While the offense may not worry some the defense of the WFT should as they’ve come alive the past few weeks. The Cowboys offense on the other hand has been struggling to find their groove with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard both dealing with injuries regardless of what the Cowboys are saying about Elliott’s knee.

This week if the Cowboys want to win they will need get their groove back on offense via the passing game with their full complement of starting wide receivers back on the field this week. They need to score early and often to stop the WFT’s plan to slow the game down and use up clock running the football. If they can get out to an early lead they will force the WFT out of their game plan into more of a shootout with less offensive firepower than the Cowboys. I believe they can and will this week and pick up the win.

Cowboys 37 Washington Football Team 20.

Matt Holleran:

With the way both teams are playing it doesn’t make much sense, but I just have a feeling this one isn’t going to be close. I know we haven’t seen the Cowboys offense really explode since they faced Atlanta about a month ago, but I think they are about to on Sunday.

Without Montez Sweat and Chase Young, Washington is not nearly as dangerous on the defensive side of the ball. Dallas will be able to consistently move the ball down the field on offense, letting them play from behind. I might end up eating my words, but I see the Cowboys winning this one fairly easily.

Give me the Cowboys, 31-20.

Darreck Kirby:

While the Cowboys have had their struggles over the past five weeks, they bring to FedEx field Sunday their healthiest roster of the season. With that comes a confidence that the malaise will dissipate and the team Dallas teased it could be early on will return for the stretch run. The only problem? They’re facing a team that’s won four straight and is fighting for its playoff lives. A win would move Dallas to an all but insurmountable division lead at three games with four remaining. A loss, however, cuts their lead to one game and gives Washington the inside track to the tiebreaker just two weeks later.

Taylor Heinecke isn’t a world-beater, but he’s not to be completely dismissed either. With a competent run game and a defense that’s finally playing up to the level that was expected entering the year, he can still give the Dallas defense some trouble. If the Cowboys are for real—if they’re the team they’ve told us all season they believe themselves to be—they’ll handle their business Sunday and allow banged up players like Zeke and Pollard room for rest ahead of the postseason. If not, well, we’ll cross that bridge when if and when we come to it.

Cowboys 27-20.

Aidan Davis:

This is the week where the Cowboys have no excuses. The roster is healthy, they have had 10 days to prepare, Washington does not have a particularly impressive defense; the table is set for a big day from the offense. However, the Washington run defense does pose a threat, and possibly without Pollard, Dak will have to shoulder the burden once again. The good news is that the Football Team secondary is not daunting whatsoever, so it is time for Dak to find his groove again.

This is an offense that actually represents a bad matchup for our defense. Washington’s ability to methodically move down the field through a heavy rushing attack, and passes close to the line of scrimmage, means they can eat away at the clock. Since Dallas thrives on ending drives by getting to the quarterback and forcing a mistake, it will be interesting to see how Dan Quinn handles an offense that doesn’t like to take risks. At this point, the offense needs to prove they can get moving again before I have faith in them getting back to what they once where.

I really hope I’m wrong but: Washington 28, Dallas 27.

Tony Catalina:

It’s December, and it’s a division rival, so right off the bat you know it’s got the makings of a big game. Now add a “guarantee” from one head coach, and a rebuttal from another, and now we are cooking with gas. This game can go a multitude of ways. I could see the Cowboys stumbling, but in the same breathe I could see them blowing the Football Teams doors down.

Ultimately I think the Cowboys team we saw from the first two months will show up, and add that to the fact the defense is getting healthier by the week, this has a recipe for a big divisional win for the Cowboys.

Give me the Cowboys in a 27-20 win, but the score will make it seem closer than I think it actually will be.

Brian Martin:

A division rival game, on the road, against a team who is currently enjoying a four-game win streak. If that wasn’t enough for the Dallas Cowboys, they are also facing their own struggles right now, especially on the offensive side of the ball. While all of that sounds like doom and gloom for the Cowboys chances in Week 14 against the Washington Football Team, this is still a game that is very much winnable.

Dallas will be getting some much-needed key reinforcements in Neville Gallimore and Randy Gregory and are still the more talented of the two teams. This is game that no doubt could go either way, but I expect the Cowboys to come out and look much more like the team we saw earlier this season when they enjoyed their own lengthy win streak. So, I’ll take America’s team in a close one.

Final score prediction: 27-23, Cowboys.

Danny Phantom:

There are a lot of things I can imagine going wrong in this game that would set the stage for a Washington upset. The Cowboys could struggle to stop Antonio Gibson, they could be sloppy with the ball, and that Taylor Heinicke fella could keep the magic going with some great plays.

But even if some of that happens, I have a hard time seeing Dak Prescott and his three-amigo trio of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup failing to exploit a suspect Washington pass defense. It may be touch and go early, but the Cowboys accelerate and exert their dominance led by Dak and his 4 TDs. Put a fork in the NFC East, because it’s done. I guarantee it.

Cowboys 41, Football Team 16.

David Howman:

Back in the offseason I was in the minority of people who weren’t too scared of the Washington Football Team trying to repeat as division champions. For a while this season, I felt incredibly vindicated. Has that changed since the Fightin’ Footballs won four straight while Dallas has looked shaky in the past month? Nope.

Washington is not a bad team by any means, but their defense is toothless without edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat while Taylor Heinicke isn’t good enough to overcome an inefficient rushing attack. Meanwhile, Dallas is just getting their best players healthy again, and Mike McCarthy’s teams historically play their best ball in the month of December. I think this game is the start of a big run for the Cowboys.

Cowboys win, 41-10.