The Dallas Cowboys are headed to the playoffs. Exactly what seed the Cowboys are and where they play is still to be determined. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won on Sunday night which makes a matchup for Dallas on the road against them in the Wild Card Round the most likely outcome, but obviously nothing is certain until it is, well, certain.
The southern divisions in the NFL this year are in some interesting spots in that whoever wins them is certain to be the four seed on either side of the overall playoff pictures, this is how we know that Tampa will be Dallas’ playoff opponent if they win the division next week and the Eagles lock the Cowboys into the top wild card by winning the NFC East on Sunday.
Of course the Cowboys could lock themselves into the five seed if they lose Thursday night to the Tennessee Titans; however, as a member of the AFC South, the Titans know their fate is the four seed or nothing at all and they have nothing to gain from even winning this particular week.
This presents an interesting dilemma for Titans head coach Mike Vrabel.
Mike Vrabel noted Tennessee does have to weigh the idea of resting players against the Cowboys on Thursday night
When we say that a win “does not matter” for the Titans this week, we mean with regards to playoff position. Whether the Titans win or lose this week they will be visiting the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18 (likely the final regular season game of the year), and the winner will take the division. Neither can change the situation for that in Week 17.
Consider that you are Mike Vrabel for a second. You know that you have nothing to gain from this week’s game against Dallas. Sure, there is something to be said for winning a game (Tennessee has lost five in a row after all) and entering the effective playoff game with some more positive energy, but this is about the war and not the battle. Mike Vrabel would not be doing his job if he was not considering relaxing just a bit this week to prepare for the Jaguars.
One of the details that makes this even more interesting than it already looks is that the Titans play three days before the Jaguars do. They can ride the mini bye into their big game in Jacksonville and if they are able to manufacture their own bye on top of it then it works all the better for them. Vrabel spoke about weighing the decision on Monday.
“We’ve got some guys that have played a lot of football for us that are far less than 100%,” Vrabel said. “It’s those guys that I appreciate that no matter what find a way to be here for this team. We’ll try to figure out who we have and who’s available and then make some decisions.”
No NFL coach would ever come out and admit that they were going to punt on a game as a whole, but the Titans are clearly considering the benefits of that. When you remember that Derrick Henry has carried the ball 44 times over the last two weeks, it makes sense to put him on ice so to speak so that he is fresher for the game that truly matters to Tennessee.
Obviously the Cowboys are in a similar boat to the Titans in that they don’t have a ton to really play for, except they certainly have more. Dallas is an extreme long shot to win the NFC East but it is still possible if they win out and the Philadelphia Eagles lose out. Injuries are never something that should be celebrated, but Monday brought news that Lane Johnson and Avonte Maddox are both going to miss time for Philly. Football is an unpredictable thing.
The Cowboys may wind up benefiting from a Tennessee team that just wants to get out of Thursday night healthy.