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Cowboys vs Football Team: Week 16 primer

The Cowboys and Football Team play again, after just playing a couple of weeks ago.

NFL: DEC 12 Cowboys at Washington Football Team Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Have you ever walked out of a bar with some of your buddies and said goodbye to each other only to end up walking in the same exact direction as them on your way to your cars? That’s probably what the Cowboys feel like as they prepare to host the Washington Football Team just two weeks after playing them in the nation’s capitol.

It was a strange scheduling decision from the start, one that was overshadowed by the fact that Dallas had four of their six divisional games in the final two months of the season. It hasn’t seemed to faze Mike McCarthy’s team, though, as they’re 4-0 in the division and oh-so-close to clinching their first NFC East title since 2018. So close, in fact, that it could be wrapped up by the time this game kicks off on Sunday night.

But the Cowboys aren’t really concerned with winning their division anymore. They want the first-round bye that only comes with earning the top seed in the conference. After watching the Buccaneers and Cardinals lose last week, Dallas went from the fourth seed to the second seed. They need the Packers to lose one more game to have an actual shot, but the Cowboys also need to win their remaining games while rooting for Cleveland, Minnesota, and Detroit.

For now, though, the Washington Football Team is in their sights. Two weeks ago, when these two faced off, there was a war of words between McCarthy and Washington head coach Ron Rivera that stemmed from McCarthy’s ‘guarantee’ of a win. Then there was the bench saga, a reaction to the dire state of the facilities in FedEx Field. This time around, there’s been no guarantees (yet) although Rivera’s team now has their own benches.

There’s no word yet on whether these benches will work, unlike the ones in their own stadium. There’s also no word yet on whether the Football Team itself will work, either. Dallas snapped their four-game win streak two weeks ago, and then Washington lost to the Eagles on Tuesday night after a COVID-19 outbreak delayed that game from Sunday.

Now they’re traveling to Dallas on a short week with a lot of players’ statuses still up in the air. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who left the game against Dallas with an injury before missing Tuesday night with COVID-19, was activated off the reserve list on Thursday and is likely going to make the start. That’ll give him an opportunity to catch up with his new friends - Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Micah Parsons, and Neville Gallimore - who all got to know him very well two weeks ago.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, are being extra cautious as they enter the home stretch of the season. McCarthy has taken most team activities virtual this week out of an abundance of caution.

He’s taken that approach in other ways, too, getting this team in a good rhythm late in the year. So far, Dallas is 3-0 in December, which has bumped their coach’s career record in this month up to 41-18. McCarthy’s penchant for winning in December has been especially significant after a November in which the Cowboys were 1-3.

Now winners of three straight on the road, the Cowboys still haven’t completely shaken the doubters that came out of the woodwork in November. Their offense has gradually gotten better in each of their last three wins, but it pales in comparison to their 34 points per game they were averaging before the bye week.

As has been posited here, though, this may be due to the last three games taking place on the road. After all, the Cowboys are averaging 23.5 points per game on the road and just one game scoring 30+ points while averaging 35.5 points per game at home and just one game scoring less than 30 points. The differences in point production may be more telling than anything.

There’s also the fact that the Cowboys were on pace to score 48 points against this team by halftime of their last game. As we know, Dallas went into a conservative, clock-killing mode in the second half to get out of there with a win as quickly as possible. Now that they’re returning to their palace in Dallas, to Jerry World, the Cowboys may be ready to reveal to the world that this offense is still capable of looking unstoppable. Even if that isn’t the case, the Cowboys have but one objective Sunday night: win.