The Cowboys host the Cardinals this week, and despite both teams having already locked up a playoff spot, they’ve got more to play for. Arizona has lost three straight games and fallen out of the top spot in their division, while Dallas needs to win out while hoping for a Packers loss to secure the first-round bye that comes with the NFC’s top seed.
There’s also the matter of respect for the Cowboys. Not since beating the 3-0 Panthers have the Cowboys notched a win over a team that had a winning record at the time of kickoff. The only other team they’ve played since then that had a winning record was the Chiefs, and Dallas lost that game. Even with the Cardinals in a bit of a tailspin, this is a team with 10 wins to their name, and keeping that number at 10 for one more week would certainly mean a lot.
It would also mean a lot because of the chance for revenge. This Cowboys team has already had a shot at revenge after sweeping the Washington Football Team, who swept them just a year ago. Jourdan Lewis, who sat out this past week with COVID-19, confirmed that the team had a chip on their shoulder from that and it played out in a major way this past week:
https://t.co/cdoLWpG5xe pic.twitter.com/iHS7T8N3fD— Jourdan Lewis (@JourdanJD) December 27, 2021
Well, then, the feeling should be similar this week too. The Cardinals put a hurt on this Cowboys team last year in Dallas’ first game without Dak Prescott. Arizona ran for 261 yards en route to a 38-10 victory over the Cowboys. As if that wasn’t enough, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, a Texas native, took an unprompted shot at America’s Team this summer when asked if he grew up a Cowboys fan:
“No,” Murray told reporters at a release event for his Sports Illustrated cover. “They were always ass.”
Murray will now be tasked with backing those words up as his Cardinals team enters this game as an underdog to the Cowboys. He’ll also need to snap a three-game losing streak that includes a loss to the Detroit Lions, who actually have been as bad as he suggested the Cowboys were.
What’s the reason for the Cardinals’ slump, though? Head coach Kliff Kingsbury, suddenly feeling embattled after riding high for most of the year, is probably wondering the same thing. Sure, losing DeAndre Hopkins for the regular season a couple weeks ago hasn’t helped, but the Cardinals went 2-1 without Murray at the helm just a month ago.
Some have postulated that the Cardinals defense, which had been susceptible against the run most of the year, ran into three really good rushing teams in the last three weeks and their injured offense just couldn’t keep up. If that’s the case, Cardinals fans shouldn’t expect it to get any better this week.
In addition to Hopkins being out, Arizona currently lists running back James Conner, center Rodney Hudson, wide receiver Rondale Moore, and tight end Demetrius Harris as having not practiced so far this week, while tight end Zach Ertz and running back Chase Edmonds are both limited.
The defense is getting hit even harder. Defensive backs Marco Wilson, Budda Baker, and Deionte Thompson joined defensive linemen Zach Allen and Jordan Phillips on the injury report for this week. Even if some of these guys manage to play this week, the Cardinals won’t be at full health.
The Cowboys won’t care one bit, though, since their drubbing at this team’s hands last year came without Prescott and several other key players. Dallas also played without their fair share of key contributors earlier this season and managed to come through it all, so don’t expect them to pull any punches in this one.
It also must be noted that this game is being played in AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys are currently outscoring opponents 269-152 and just dropped a 50-burger on a divisional foe a week ago. Home and away splits - like the Cardinals posting a 7-1 record on the road - tend to be statistical noise, but there does seem to be some merit to the theory that this Cowboys team scores a lot more at home this year.
Up to this point, the biggest criticism of the Cowboys has been their lack of games played against real contenders. They’ve lost to both of last year’s Super Bowl teams, and otherwise have yet to even face a team that was considered to be good when playing Dallas. It’s poetic, then, that by the time the Cowboys draw the Cardinals they’re doing so when Arizona is seeing a mass exodus from their bandwagon.
As always, though, the Cowboys don’t control who they play and in the end, nobody cares who you beat as long as you beat them. The fact remains that this Cardinals team will be in the playoffs and could very well be a division champion. A win here for the Cowboys should go a long way towards convincing those who have yet to place their trust in Mike McCarthy’s group.