OK. If you are a Dallas Cowboys fan and you have never understood the old adage that there is a reason they play the games, you surely get it now. For several weeks, we were certain that the Cowboys were already locked into the five seed in the NFC playoff standings. All the logical paths forward pointed to that. Dallas losing two games against the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins just reinforced things. Given the last two games for the Cowboys and those facing the Philadelphia Eagles, it was highly improbable that the Cowboys would leapfrog them for the NFC East title and number two seed.
Improbable turned out to be far from impossible. While Dallas had its stumbles, including the near loss to the Detroit Lions, they did manage to win that game to get to 11-5. At the same time, the Eagles were dropping four of five games amid reports that head coach Nick Sirianni had lost the confidence of his players. Most importantly, they lost to both the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals, which meant the teams were tied in their record against common opponents, and Dallas holds the next tiebreaker, their record within the NFC. Now all they have to do is beat the Washington Commanders in the season finale, and they are division winners. and more importantly, the two seed, with a chance to play their first two playoff games at home if they can win. It doesn’t matter what happens in the game the Eagles have with the New York Giants as long as the Cowboys win. Sirianni has also sounded open to the idea of resting his starters in the game, despite it being at the same time as Dallas and Washington are playing.
This sounds great. Well, at least to us. There are those who argue that the Cowboys would be better off in the fifth seed, where they would play the NFC South champion. That division still has three teams in contention, and none of them sit above .500 going into week 18. If Dallas does avoid the five seed (and there is a path they could be number three) there are four different possibilities.
Yes, it is a mess. And the past few weeks have been a stark illustration that you just never know what will happen in the NFL. We cannot discount any outcome that has even a tiny mathematical probability, because it was such a long shot for the Cowboys to overhaul the Eagles at all, much less with a game left to play.
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And they need to take advantage of the chance to lock up home field for the first couple of rounds, which a win over the Commanders would do. You can argue the reality of home field advantage all you want, but Dallas has been undefeated at AT&T Stadium for almost two full seasons now. That means that all the losses this season came on the road. Let’s roll with that, shall we, and try to play as many in Arlington as possible. Worrying about the Green Bay Packers or Los Angeles Rams is pointless at the moment. The NFL has to be pleased with how things have turned out, with every game being played in the NFC this weekend having an impact on who makes the playoffs and how the teams are seeded.
There is a saying about being able to control your own destiny in the NFL, and that is exactly where Dallas is. Even though they have to finish things on the road, Washington looks a lot like the first game of the season, which turned out to be a 40-0 blowout of the Giants. This is absolutely a winnable game for the Cowboys, even if they do take some care with their players.
That is something they need to be mindful of, especially with Tyler Smith and Tyron Smith. There is a very legitimate argument to be made for sitting both of them to get them as healthy as possible for the playoffs, especially Tyler, who is dealing with a torn plantar fascia. That is an injury he can play through, but another week would be very helpful. Tyron. of course. has a long injury history. While the Cowboys are signing La’el Collins to the practice squad for badly needed OL depth, he is not expected to be available on Sunday. Tyron will have to dress for the game, but they might be planning to keep him on the sidelines unless they are forced to put him in due to an injury during the game.
While the prospect of having Chuma Edoga and T.J. Bass on the left side of the line is hardly ideal, this is a game where Dallas should be able to survive that. It will rely on Dak Prescott being able to find CeeDee Lamb and his other receivers quickly. That is something he has shown he can do. He will also have to be very aware of the pressure and protect himself. It also is a game where Tony Pollard needs to be more effective, but the Commanders are in the bottom quarter of the league in yards allowed on the ground. The right side of the line is still intact, and that needs to be where the Cowboys attack things.
When Dallas is on defense, they are facing a very mediocre passing attack with Sam Howell, who was just named the starter on Wednesday. It will mean Howell will have started every game. The problem for Washington is that Howell is tied for throwing the second most picks in the NFL, and the opportunistic defense of the Cowboys is going to be trying to help maintain the Commanders’ position of having the worst turnover margin in the league.
Dallas played most of the season having to hope Philadelphia would stumble. They kept plugging away, and while they had their own missteps down the stretch, it looks like the Eagles were a case of the luck finally running out. The Cowboys wound up with just enough wins, and the bizarre sequence at the end of the Lions game went their way. We don’t believe in curses, but hey, we’ll take anything that might help, and hopefully having Jimmy Johnson’s name in the Ring of Honor will be some kind of mystic advantage. Chalk that up as the most minor reason to play at home in January and why they need to take care of business on Sunday.
The biggest reason is that a win would set them up for at least two playoff games at home, and an upset of the San Francisco 49ers is just one more of those improbable things that could fall their way. That could lead to hosting the NFC Championship.
We won’t know about that for a couple of weeks. The task at hand is to take care of business, and keep doing it as long as possible. Not long ago, this situation seemed out of reach. Now all they have to do is take things in hand. We didn’t expect it, and it took a lot of things falling just right. This is such a golden opportunity. It must not be wasted.