We spent a lot of last week talking about how unique the Christmas Eve matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles was. This was true for a variety of reasons but chief among them the fact that Dallas and Philadelphia were both already in the playoffs and dealing with certain things to play for while trying to guard against the injury bug.
This week’s game is similar for the Cowboys in that a win keeps their hopes (however faint they are) to win the NFC East, and maybe more, alive, but they obviously need a lot of help to win the division and potentially take the top seed in the conference. On the other side though, the Tennessee Titans are not in a position of needing help but they are in a difficult spot.
It has been said many times this week but in case you are unaware - the Titans can neither gain nor lose anything as a result of Thursday night’s game against the Cowboys. Tennessee must win in Week 18 against the Jacksonville Jaguars in order to reach the postseason, and they would do so as the AFC South winner. If they lose that game then the division title instead goes to Jacksonville.
But with the state of the AFC at the moment, neither team in that division can even improve their potential playoff seeding if they do win it next Sunday. Whoever wins the AFC South between the Titans and Jaguars will host a playoff game as the number four seed in the conference, and nothing that happens to either team this week will change that in any way.
The Titans are expected to start quarterback Josh Dobbs against the Cowboys
The final injury report of the week noted that Titans running back Derrick Henry is doubtful for this game and that is clearly because Tennessee is looking to save him for the playoffs. While you play to win every game in a technical sense, this is about a bigger goal for the Titans so this is a logical decision by Mike Vrabel and his staff.
Whether or not it is related to the idea of resting starters, the Titans are making a change at the most important position in the game. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill likely out for the year many have assumed rookie Malik Willis would be leading them through their hopeful playoff push. That remains to be seen, but on Thursday night it will be Josh Dobbs under center.
The #Titans are expected to start QB Josh Dobbs tonight, per source.— Justin M (@JustinM_NFL) December 29, 2022
A former @Vol_Football legend, Dobbs replaces Malik Willis against the Cowboys tonight.
Dobbs was just signed by the Titans a little over a week ago and will be making his first ever NFL start on Thursday night. All NFL games are difficult, but this one is lining up about as favorably as one can for the Cowboys.
Again, this could be the Titans preserving Willis the same way that they are likely to do so with Derrick Henry or legitimately trying Dobbs out to see if he can be more effective for them against Jacksonville. Nevertheless, the Cowboys should handle their business fairly easily, consider that at the time of this writing our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have them favored by 13 points on the road.
Also worth noting, while this was the expectation generally speaking, it was officially reported on Thursday around lunchtime that Tony Pollard will be inactive tonight.
#Cowboys RB Tony Pollard (thigh) will be inactive tonight against the #Titans, per source.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 29, 2022
This is a short week for the Cowboys and as mentioned they have the ability to rest players who they want to as well and it appears they are doing that with Pollard. For what it’s worth Pollard is 12 yards away from 1,000 on the season so if he is going to get them they will have to come next week against the Washington Commanders, although it remains to be seen whether or not he will even play in that game. Much of the answer likely depends on the results of this week, not just with Dallas but with Philadelphia and even Washington.