With the nail-biting victory in Week 16 over the Philadelphia Eagles in the rear view mirror, there are some important decisions ahead for the Dallas Cowboys. Currently, the Cowboys are sitting at 11-4 and would need a miracle to get a top four seed in the playoffs. At this moment, the Cowboys have a 99% chance of clinching the fifth seed in the NFC playoff bracket. Regardless of the expected madness with the final two weeks of regular season football upcoming, the top five seeds for the NFC playoffs are expected to stay where they are currently sitting at right now.
For now, the top five will be in this order: Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Buccaneers, and Dallas Cowboys. The sixth seed at the moment seems to be trending in the direction of an NFC East rival, the New York Giants, who have an 85% chance of clinching. The seventh and final seed in the NFC playoff picture is a bit more murky with up to six teams technically still in the playoff hunt. Among those six teams, there are two in particular that have at least a 24% or higher of making the playoffs: the Washington Commanders and the Seattle Seahawks.
Wouldn’t that be interesting to see all four teams from the NFC East make the playoffs? This would be an unprecedented first in the history of the NFL. Thankfully, the Cowboys are locked in and ready to go which is always nice with two games remaining in the season.
Since the franchise is essentially locked into the fifth seed of the playoffs, how should they approach the final couple of weeks? There two scenarios that would be of their own choosing, but another depends on what their NFC East rival does in Week 17.
Scenario 1: Time to rest up and get healthy for a potential deep playoff run
The Cowboys have seen their share of injuries this year, just like every other NFL team. Dallas also a handful of key players that are banged up ahead of the playoffs. The franchise could opt to essentially punt on the rest of the regular season since they are not only in the playoffs, but their seeding is pretty much set in stone. This would give some of the most important players on this roster three weeks to get healthy. Now, that isn’t a bad way to look at things, but knocking off three weeks worth of rust in the playoffs isn’t ideal.
Scenario 2: Keep the starters in and have them play all 17 games
As multiple key players on the Cowboys deal with the injury bug, keeping continuity is also very important. This scenario keeps the game rhythm in play with the playoffs on the horizon. What the team is really banking on by playing every regular season game is to fine tune and sharpen up weaknesses before they get exposed in the postseason. This scenario is also an interesting one given the recent struggles and limited experience with certain positions on the roster.
Scenario 3: A compromise by playing this week and resting the next
Depending on how Week 17 shakes out for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys may or may not have a shot to win the division and lock up a top four playoff seed. The hopes and dreams of this happening currently stand at slim to none. However, there is still a sliver of hope that this could happen.
The team could opt for a middle of the road strategy by having their starters play in Week 17, and have them opt out of Week 18’s contest. By playing starters in Week 17, and sitting them out in Week 18 accomplishes two things: keeping the continuity going, and reducing the risk of injury. Of course, this strategy depends on the Eagles. If the Cowboys still have a chance for the division crown in Week 18, they will have to go for it. If they don’t, then the final week of the regular season acts like an unofficial bye week.
From a mental and physical perspective, the front office and coaching staff know these players best. It will be an interesting development to see what is done and how it is handled. It is a very delicate situation, that if handled right could lead to a nice long playoff run. On the flip side, if it isn’t done right then a quick exit from the postseason could be on the horizon.