Conventional wisdom says the only contest of any importance to the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday is the nightcap showdown with the Washington Redskins for all the NFC East marbles.
However, there are a few contests earlier in the day that hold value for all three remaining NFC East playoff contenders, including the Cowboys.
CHICAGO AT DETROIT (NOON CT)
When the Bears visit the Lions, both the Giants and Redskins will become instant Lions fans. Detroit has nothing to gain other than ending their season on a winning note.
History suggests many teams in the past have chosen to go out on a high note instead of taking a dive to secure optimal draft position.
Dallas proved this fact in 2010 when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to log a meaningless 6th win on the season, and forfeit several spots of draft status. Jason Garrett was new at the helm and looking to point his ballclub in the right direction for the future.
With a fiery coach like Jim Schwartz at the helm in Detroit, I can see them going all out to defeat their NFC North rival and right the ship going forward.
The Bears will be playing to keep their playoff hopes alive by winning AND hoping Minnesota loses to Green Bay later in the day.
Chicago will be in sudden death mode which will no doubt conjure a maximum effort. After losing 5 of their last 7 games, the Bears are by no means a lock to steal the victory.
GREEN BAY AT MINNESOTA (3:25 CT)
Green Bay will be playing to hold off San Francisco and claim the #2 seed in the NFC.
A victory would provide the Packers a bye week to recover and prepare, and also secure home field advantage for at least the divisional round.
Minnesota will seek to defeat Green Bay and acquire the remaining open NFC wild card slot. No doubt both teams will enter the game fully prepared to walk away with a “W”.
While it’s clear both the Washington Redskins and New York Giants will be rooting for the Lions and Packers to keep their wild card options open, Dallas would also receive significant benefits from the same outcomes.
REVENGE ON THE GIANTS
This not so far-fetched trifecta of outcomes would hand over the final wild card entry to the Giants.
Not only would the Cowboys gain entrance into the postseason by defeating the Redskins Sunday night, they would also gain sweet revenge on New York.
Destroying the Giants’ final playoff dreams would be a wonderful bonus for Dallas and their fans. Just as their hated rivals handed them the same agonizing fate in the regular season finale last January.
REDSKINS’ ALTERED MOTIVATION
However, which Redskins team should the Cowboys prefer to face?
A Washington team hell bent on winning as their only option to continue their season? Or a Redskins bunch with a safety valve in place in case they lost?
Assuming the Lions and Packers both won earlier in the day, the Redskins would enter the contest in possession of a wild card berth in event of a loss.
I’m not saying this would mute an enormous Redskins’ effort come Sunday night, but merely suggesting if things aren’t going their way late in the game, the fear of football death would not be present when reaching deep down for dire motivation.
As Al Pacino’s character says in the football movie ‘Any Given Sunday’, “…in any fight, it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch”.
If the roles were reversed, I’d much rather face a Dallas team sitting on a wild card berth, than a team with everything to lose while playing for their very survival.