The Cowboys have one more game left to play before the playoffs begin, and the result - along with two other concurrent games - will decide who they face. While Dallas needs help from the Giants and Cardinals to move up from the five seed, those games won’t matter if they lose to the Commanders on the road.
So, Mike McCarthy has committed to playing to win this game, rather than resting certain starters. The Commanders, already eliminated from the postseason, are taking a different track. Rookie quarterback Sam Howell will be starting this game in an effort to get a look at their youngest passer before heading into an offseason that already promises to ask some tough questions. Are any of our writers scared of Howell? Let’s find out.
When Washington has the ball
Make Sam Howell uncomfortable
Sam Howell will be making his NFL debut in this one. While the Commanders on the whole have very little motivation in this one, having already been eliminated from the playoffs, Howell has plenty to play for. In college, he was an athletic gunslinger type, and he’ll certainly be interested in testing a Cowboys secondary that has had its fair share of problems the last few weeks.
However, Washington has had its own issues in pass protection. The offensive line has allowed the sixth highest pressure rate and eighth most sacks on the year; meanwhile, Dallas leads the league in pressures and is third in sacks. If Micah Parsons and this crew can keep Howell under duress, he’ll face a much tougher time of making his mark to this coaching staff.
When Dallas has the ball
Build an early lead
The Cowboys certainly don’t sound like they plan on pulling starters during this game, and depending on where you stand on the ageless Rust v Rest debate, that may or may not be a good thing. But the Cowboys would still benefit from starting strong in this one - the Cowboys have scored on their opening drive just once since that Vikings game, which is also the last time they scored more than once in the first quarter - and building some confidence heading into the playoffs.
The Commanders defense has been solid this season - they’re 13th in defensive DVOA - but they’ve allowed at least 20 points in each of their last three games, all losses. Washington will also likely be without six starters or key rotational players on that side of the ball, in addition to the five defenders already on the injured reserve. Dak Prescott and this offense should have no problem moving the ball, and the bigger lead they build early on the harder things will be for the rookie quarterback on the other side. Putting this game away early will be advantageous to the Cowboys regardless of their player rest plans.
Now onto the predictions from your BTB writers...
Tom Ryle (11-5):
Talk about unknowns. We don’t really know how hard the Commanders are trying, and if Philly jumps on the Giants early we could see Dallas’ approach change mid-game. I think the Cowboys win fairly easily while playing fairly conservative.
Something like 27-10, Cowboys.
Tony Catalina (10-6):
One team still playing for something, another looking to get the season over with and get some young guys some playing time before the offseason commences. It really should be a walk in the park for the Cowboys, but as we know, it very rarely works out like that.
Ultimately the Cowboys will be clearly more talented and motivated team and they will finish the regular season with 13 victories.
Cowboys win to the tune of 27-13.
Matt Holleran (9-6):
This is a hard game to predict because we just don’t know what kind of motivation Dallas will come out with on Sunday. I think even if they aren’t at their best, like the Titans game, they are still good enough to defeat a Commanders team who has nothing to play for. I see this being a lower-scoring, slow-paced game that eventually gets a little out of hand in the fourth quarter.
Give me the Cowboys, 23-13.
Brandon Loree (11-5):
We’ve come a long way since my accurate 20-17 prediction in Week 2, picking the Cowboys to beat the Bengals. I’m reiterating this because David Howman, the excellent writer at BTB and maestro of this column, has about 20 predictions that he got right this season, so I just wanted one last W.
Now for the Week 18 matchup with Major Tuddy. Dallas will be playing against rookie quarterback Sam Howell, who will get his first NFL start. Before his senior season, Howell was talked about as a first-round player, but after a subpar season, he plummeted to the fifth round. In my opinion, the Commanders got a steal and should have pieces to surround Howell with the talent to succeed.
The Cowboys will ultimately win a messy 20-17 game, but my score could change depending on who plays for Washington. When writing this, the Commanders have key starters on defense missing practice. If that continues into Sunday, the Cowboys might win by two more “Tuddy’s.”
Matthew Arizzi (11-5):
Week 18 is here and it matters, which is fun, especially when the only way the Cowboys can move is up. The Commanders are to start rookie Sam Howell, which probably fairs worse for the Cowboys than Carson Wentz. The Cowboys desperately need to fine tune a few things, atop that list is getting the running offense back on track and limiting the turnovers.
They haven’t had a running back average over four yards per carry in any of the last three games. That’s worrisome. The turnover numbers are just downright bad and everyone is to blame there. It’s unacceptable against good teams and will lead to their demise if it continues in the playoffs, but I like them here.
Cowboys 27, Commanders 19.
Mike Poland (12-3):
With all the important NFC games playing at the same time, the Cowboys will need to go out there and play like it matters. To win against a divisional rival going into the playoffs matters more than people think. Cowboys outscore the Commanders by a full ten points per game.
Cowboys win 27-17.
Brian Martin (12-4):
The Commanders really have nothing to play for in the regular-season finale, and as such, will use this game to evaluate their rookie QB Sam Howell. The Cowboys on the other hand are playing for where they might end up being seeded in the playoffs. With something to play for, give me the Cowboys.
Cowboys win, 27-13.
RJ Ochoa (11-5):
This is a strange week for the Cowboys what with how much help they need in order to improve their playoff position, but it is a simple one for them in that they need to put together a performance they feel good about heading into the playoffs.
Ultimately the Commanders are not a good team and the Cowboys are a very good one. Give me Dallas with some hope that it winds up being more than just another win in the positive column.
David Howman (12-4):
Back in the preseason, when Sam Howell was tearing it up against third stringers, I opined that he was the best quarterback on the team. While that wasn’t necessarily a compliment, I do think Howell has the skill set and mentality to at least keep this Dallas defense honest. He’s not a statue and he’ll take some deep shots. In short, he’ll make a more worthy test of this patchwork secondary than Josh Dobbs did a week ago.
Still, though, Washington is a pretty bad team with very little to play for. I think the Cowboys will get off to a hot start, build a big lead, pull some starters, and go into ball control mode to grind out the clock. Howell will spur a bit of a comeback, but nothing that seriously threatens the Cowboys’ lead.
Cowboys win 34-24.