Sure, the Cowboys need the combination of a win and a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles to the New York Giants to win the NFC East, and, yes, winning and the San Francisco 49ers losing to the Arizona Cardinals would give them the conference’s top seed and first-round bye. But Dallas has to handle its own business before going into the playoffs.
“Our focus should be beating Washington,” Parsons said. “If we don’t finish what we’ve go to do this week, what does it matter what the Eagles do? I think everyone’s focus should be on Washington.”
His coach is on board, with Mike McCarthy saying the 12-4 Cowboys are playing to win against the 7-8-1 Commanders, who were eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, will be missing several regulars and are turning to rookie quarterback Sam Howell to start and make his NFL debut.
Cowboys-Commanders and Eagles-Giants will be played simultaneously to limit any lineup shenanigans. If it Philadelphia pulls away against New York (which is resting several starters), Dallas could make some changes, but that’s not the plan going in.
“You can’t go into the game and think you’re going to shift gears, I just think for the principal alone,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to do everything we can to win this game.”
The Cowboys are favored by 7 points to do so, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, more than three months after beating Washington 25-10 at home. That was before the Commanders were 7-5 with the inside track to make the playoffs and went 0-3-1 down the stretch.
“We had quite a few weeks to control our destiny, and we didn’t do that,” wide receiver and face of the franchise Terry McLaurin said. “You don’t really get too many opportunities to have a few weeks to just get the one or two wins that we needed to get in. That’s disappointing.”
DALLAS O-LINE SHUFFLE
Dallas center Tyler Biadasz’s right ankle injury against Tennessee prompted multiple changes on the offensive line that should stick for the regular-season finale, with the third-year pro expected to be sidelined.
Left guard Connor McGovern slid over to fill in for Biadasz, while rookie Tyler Smith moved from left tackle to McGovern’s old spot. Jason Peters, the 40-year-old signed in September after perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith tore a hamstring, took over the position both played as longtime NFC East rivals when Peters was in Philadelphia.
Tyron Smith was already at right tackle after making his season debut in Week 15, when the club decided to keep his rookie replacement in his old spot. If Biadasz is ready for the playoffs, as the Cowboys believe, coaches will have more decisions to make.
Through it all, five-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin has started all 16 games so far in his regular spot.
Perhaps the only silver lining of the Commanders being eliminated after Carson Wentz threw three interceptions in a loss to Cleveland is they get a chance to see what Howell can do in a full-speed game against a playoff-bound opponent.
Washington took Howell, once considered a potential top-10 pick, in the fifth round last year. The former North Carolina star has been practicing behind Wentz and Taylor Heinicke all season waiting for his chance.
“This week right here is to show what he’s been learning,” Commanders receiver and college teammate Dyami Brown said. “I’ve seen him composed in some big moments, so I think he’ll do real good.”
Coach Ron Rivera initially considered going back to Heinicke before deciding on Howell after talking to players and members of his staff.
“Really just felt that if we’re going to do it, now’s the chance,” Rivera said. “Why not get it over with now and go from there? But the most important thing is that we’re really intrigued in terms of watching and seeing what Sam can do as a quarterback in this league.”
Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, who missed the Tennessee game with a thigh injury, is 12 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season and should end up as the first leading rusher for Dallas not named Ezekiel Elliott since the two-time rushing champ was drafted in 2016.
Elliott needs 134 yards to reach 1,000, but he hasn’t had a 100-yard game all season. It would be the first time in his seven seasons that Elliott hasn’t hit the century mark — if he doesn’t get there against the Commanders. There’s a decent chance Dallas could have two 900-yard rushers in the same season for the first time.
Receiver CeeDee Lamb needs 10 catches to break Michael Irvin’s franchise record of 111 from 1995, which was set in a 16-game season. Lamb needs 93 yards to become the first Dallas receiver to reach 1,400 since Irvin had a franchise-record 1,603 the same year he established the catch mark.