Week 18 has become very important for the Dallas Cowboys. They have the security of knowing they will be no worse than the fifth seed in the NFC for the playoffs, but thanks mostly to the defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles by the New Orleans Saints, they still have a chance to move up to the number one or two seed. They will play the Washington Commanders at the same time the Eagles face off against the New York Giants, and if the Cowboys and the Giants both win, Dallas will win the NFC East and be no worse than the two seed. Getting the one seed is much less likely as it would require the Arizona Cardinals beating the San Francisco 49ers. That seems almost outside the realm of possibility, although this year has been full of extremely unexpected outcomes.
But the real danger is having a Pyrrhic victory. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to winning a battle that harms the cause more in the long run. The application here is that Dallas will be expected to play their starters to ensure a win, and that risks injury to key players that could spell disaster in the postseason.
We discussed this idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The Cowboys are already managing multiple health situations. Leighton Vander Esch is expected to sit out the game on Sunday to be as ready as possible for the playoffs. Tyler Biadasz is not going to be ready before the postseason begins, and they are hoping to get Matt Farniok and Johnathan Hankins back as well. Tony Pollard is dealing with his own injury, but with the struggles Dallas has had running the ball lately, he may be called on for a major role in the regular-season finale. Micah Parsons would also benefit from time off to heal, but it is very doubtful he would sit this one or willingly even take many plays off. Then there are the healthy players like CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, DeMarcus Lawrence, and so many more who the team need to come out of this game healthy.
Further, there is no one more crucial to the team’s fortunes than Dak Prescott. Having a chance to improve their seeding eliminates the chance of benching him out of caution.
Or does it? After Washington was eliminated last weekend, much to the consternation of Ron Rivera, just how hard are they going to try? That is the real joker in this particular deck. That admission from Rivera might have damaged the belief of his players in his leadership. They might well put in a lackluster effort. Perhaps we will see something of a best case scenario where the Cowboys will get out to a big enough lead to start pulling some of those key players. It might make it easier to manage things with the rearranged offensive line as well.
Further, Dallas knows they can win with Cooper Rush behind center. It would also depend on the defense once again shutting down the opponent, but again, that may become reality early in this game.
All that may be wishing for far too much. But it also illustrates that managing and protecting the health of the players goes far beyond designating inactives for the game. It will be something the coaches must keep in mind throughout the game. We know Washington has a huge issue at QB and Rivera reportedly plans to bench Carson Wentz to start rookie Sam Howell, with Taylor Heinicke probably the backup. That does not exactly look like a strong effort to win. They also have their own injury issues, and might be looking to protect players for the future now that they are out of the playoffs. That is just one more way an opportunity might develop for the Cowboys to protect their own.
The worst thing of course would be for this game to go right down to the wire, with Dallas having to play as hard as they can to try and secure a win that still could be meaningless overall if Philadelphia tops New York. The schedulers did the Cowboys no favors by having the two games going on simultaneously, although it was a no-brainer for maximizing viewer interest. Some scoreboard watching is going to be inevitable, as a blowout one way or another in the Giants-Eagles game could influence things, especially if Philly is on the winning side of a blowout.
Mike McCarthy seems strongly inclined to get a thirteenth win no matter what else is happening in other games. That is likely the most influential thing for this game, but again, the way it is going should still have some impact. We can only hope for no significant injuries in the game, but hope is all we bring to the table.
The only thing we know for certain is that Dallas will be in the playoffs. They are denied a chance to most effectively protect their key players in the regular season finale. It is a perilous situation. Hopefully, again, it will turn out for the best, but that is not a strategy. This game forces the staff to be reactionary rather than proactive.