The 2022 regular season is coming to a close as the Dallas Cowboys finish things off by traveling to FedEx Field in Maryland to face the Washington Commanders. There was a time when Washington was in good shape to help the NFC complete the playoff sweep by having all four teams get in, but after three-straight losses, the Commanders have officially been eliminated from playoff contention.
That means the Cowboys will not face a Commanders team fighting for a playoff spot but instead looking towards the future. Dallas, however, still has something to play for. With a win combined with a Philadelphia Eagles loss, the Cowboys would win the NFC East and host a playoff game. Additionally, if the San Francisco 49ers also lose, the Cowboys could jump all the way to the no. 1 seed and earn a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Cowboys don’t win the NFC, they will remain the fifth seed and travel to Florida to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Wild Card weekend.
With things still unknown, what should we expect from the Cowboys on Sunday? Here are five things to watch when the Cowboys face the Commanders.
1. Howell do you do?
Wednesday morning it was announced that Taylor Heinicke would be the Commanders starting QB on Sunday with rookie Sam Howell also expected to get some reps. By the end of practice that day, the plan had changed as Washington head coach Ron Rivera said Howell would be their starting QB.
Giving the nod to the fifth-round rookie could add a spark to the Commanders. Howell hasn’t played a down of football at the NFL level, but he’s got a little wild card in him. He’s got a strong arm and will take some shots deep, but he also abandons ship early and will take off running. He’s a tough guy who will pinball off of would-be tacklers, but he’s not a quarterback who will stay calm in the pocket and throw his guys open, so look for the Cowboys to break on any throws that are delivered a tad bit late.
2. Approaching retirement
The Cowboys' offensive line took a hit a few weeks ago when they lost Terence Steele for the season. And last week, center Tyler Biadasz got hurt and won’t be available on Sunday as he heals from a high ankle sprain. With Biadasz out, both Tyler Smith and Connor McGovern slide to the right one spot and Jason Peters becomes the left tackle. That’s how the Cowboys finished the Titans game, and from what we can tell, that’s how they’ll roll against the Commanders.
This puts some extra work on the 40-year-old tackle this week. Peters has played nine games with the Cowboys this season and only once has played more than 30% of the snaps. Oddly, it was against Washington earlier in the year, and sadly he got hurt. The Cowboys are hoping he can hold up a little longer in this one.
3. Surviving the edge
Speaking of holding up, it would also be great if Tyron Smith escapes unscathed as well. After returning in Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Smith is manning the right side next to Zack Martin. He’s ramped up fine including playing every snap in the last two games, but as we all know, every Tyron game comes with a lot of breath holding.
Not only do we hope the Cowboys' veteran tackles make it out okay, but they’ll need to play well enough to keep Dak Prescott from suffering any big hits. It’s going to be 60 minutes of anxiety, which brings us to...
4. Who plays and for how long?
With the strong possibility of having to play on wild card weekend, will the Cowboys take it easy on a handful of guys? Besides the before-mentioned veterans who play critical positions, what about some of the younger guys who take a pounding? Edge-rushing sensation Micah Parsons has looked gassed down the stretch of the season. Would the Cowboys' coaching staff pull back the reins a bit? And we know Tony Pollard only needs 12 yards to reach the first 1,000-yard season of his career, but he is coming off a hip injury. Will the coaches get him his yards and then put him back on the sideline?
In a perfect world, the Cowboys get up big and slowly start integrating their backups into the game because being healthy the following week is imperative.
5. Scoreboard watch
Winning the game would be nice, but it won’t actually mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things if the Giants can’t beat the Eagles. Initially, we heard New York’s head coach Brian Daboll suggest there won’t be any resting from his team, but with them not actually having anything to play for, it appears that cooler heads have prevailed. Based on what is happening at the Giants at practice, it seems much more likely Daboll will give his guys some rest.
With the Eagles needing the win to preserve the top spot in the conference, they will be going full speed ahead. If they start pulling away from a Giants team that is resting many starters, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys wave the white flag and start protecting their players as well.
I think McCarthy provides enough tells here to let us know that...— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) January 4, 2023
(A) Obviously, they'll be trying to win the game
(B) It won't be "at all costs" if they hear whispers that Philly is blowing out the Giants pic.twitter.com/BUSPo7nadk
What will you be watching on Sunday?