To rest or not to rest; that is the question facing several playoff-bound teams throughout the NFL in Week 18. Now that we know Dallas’ regular-season finale against the Washington Commanders will have the same start time as other key NFC matchups, so the Cowboys’ options may be limited. But would playing without some of their key starters necessarily prohibit Dallas from winning?
Just how much the Cowboys have to gain from Week 18 depends entirely on other outcomes. If the Eagles beat the Giants then Dallas is locked into the fifth seed and a trip to Tampa Bay regardless of their own game. If Philadelphia loses then the Cowboys could take the NFC East, and then a loss by the 49ers to Arizona would bump the team all the way to the top seed in the conference.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the NFL scheduled all three of these games for the same late-afternoon kickoff this Sunday. Nobody will have the benefit of knowing how the other teams fared, at least not right away, which leaves the Cowboys, Eagles, and 49ers all with carrots to chase in terms of postseason posturing.
The same can’t be said for their competition. Neither Arizona nor Washington has a shot at the playoffs now. And New York is locked in to the sixth seed in the NFC, unable to improve or hurt their standing with this week’s game.
How hard Dallas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco will have to play to win depends on how much resistance they encounter. That opens up an intriguing situation for the Cowboys; could they still put away the Commanders even while giving some of their key players a week off?
Just last Thursday, we saw QB Dak Prescott come up limping after a play against the Titans. He seemed to shake it off and be fine the rest of the way, but how badly do you want to risk a more serious issue going forward?
Dak is just an example of the question hanging over various players. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch would benefit from another week off for further healing of his neck issue. There are plenty of other guys like RB Tony Pollard, WR Michael Gallup, and LB Micah Parsons who could benefit from more time off to get rested and healthier for Dallas’ first playoff game.
Remember, Dallas needs losses by both the Eagles and 49ers this Sunday to have a shot at a first-round bye. The odds of that, especially with neither of their opponents having anything left to play for, are very low.
Also, remember that the last time Dallas played and defeated Washington it was with Cooper Rush at quarterback. They won that game 25-10, and that was before the Commanders started playing musical chairs at their own QB position. If Washington does end up going with rookie Sam Howell in his first-ever NFL action, that only sweetens the deal for the Cowboys.
Depending on how ready the Commanders are to throw in the towel this season, Dallas could potentially win without some of their best and brightest stars. More playing time for the likes of Malik Davis, T.Y. Hilton, Jake Ferguson, Sam Williams, Jabril Cox, Nahshon Wright, and others could pay dividends down the road.
Even if Dallas does open the game with the majority of their starters, hopefully they’ll be keeping an eye on the scoreboards in the other two matchups. If Philly pulls away quickly from New York, the Cowboys could decide to empty the bench earlier than usual.
How both Dallas and Washington ultimately approach this game remains to be seen. But with the Commanders now focused on the offseason, that could give the Cowboys an opportunity to get the win without giving their all. With the playoffs just a week away, the big picture will be very relevant in this final regular season game.