Do the Dallas Cowboys play their best football when the pressure is on?

October 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and players celebrate after a defensive stop during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
October 2, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and players celebrate after a defensive stop during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi /

The Dallas Cowboys are on the verge of clinching the NFC East and the top seed in the conference, should they rest players down the stretch?

The Dallas Cowboys got back in the win column last Sunday night, keeping their magic number at one. One game won or lost by the New York Giants or Cowboys, gives Dallas the NFC East title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

If one of these things happens this weekend, the questions will begin. What do the Cowboys do for the final two games of the regular season? Do they sit players and prepare to get them as healthy as possible, or do they play out the string full speed ahead?

A quick view of head coach Jason Garrett’ history suggests that Dallas will play it straight throughout. In 2014, Garrett played his guys almost the entire game against the Washington Redskins to finish the season even with their playoff fate sealed.

However, there are clearly guys like left tackle Tyron Smith, linebacker Sean Lee, safety Barry Church and running back Ezekiel Elliott, who could use the rest. We can say let things play out before making a decision, but the Cowboys can clinch as early as Thursday night if the Philadelphia Eagles help Dallas out by beating the Giants. The time to figure out your plan is now.

But is resting players the right way to go, or do the Cowboys need that pressure on them to stay sharp? Now forget the 2007 season when the Cowboys had their last bye week in the playoffs and lost to the Giants in the NFC Divisional round because that has no bearing on what this team does.

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Instead, think about what Dallas has done this year. They played their best football in the middle of the season when they were in a race for the NFC East and had to win every week to stay in front of the Giants, Eagles and Washington Redskins. That was when the Cowboys were at their sharpest, beating teams no one thought they could and when they were fighting towards proving everyone wrong.

Then came the bye week and the Cowboys seemed to come back a little lethargic against the Eagles before kicking into gear again, winning that game in overtime and reeling off five more victories in a row. Dallas was feeling good again until a subpar game against the Giants after having 10 days off, three more than New York.

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Last week, the Giants won to keep the pressure on and the Cowboys responded later in the night with a win to stay two games up with just two to play. From the looks of it this season, Dallas seems to play better when they are focused and stay in a rhythm. Giving guys too much rest might not work well for this team.

It would be difficult to believe that Garrett would sit his best players for this Sunday’s game, no matter what happens on Thursday night. Having three weeks in a row (including the bye) off is not an optimal strategy for the Cowboys, so expect everyone healthy enough to play on Sunday to suit up.

After this week, though, the decision gets more difficult. There are Cowboys who could really use a game off because they are genuinely banged up, Smith and cornerback Orlando Scandrick come to mind, and the extra rest would help them get closer to optimal health for the playoffs. They are veterans who know how to handle themselves and stay focused.

There are also players the Cowboys cannot afford to lose if they want a long playoff run; Lee, Elliott and offensive linemen Zack Martin and Travis Frederick are in that category. Why risk their health in a meaningless game(s)?

But Dallas does have young guys who can benefit from the experience of playing as many games as possible; rookies like quarterback Dak Prescott, cornerback Anthony Brown and Elliott are in that boat as well.

It’s a slippery slope and the team needs to have a plan in place for the next two weeks, in each scenario. Just like they do for the draft.

Next: Five reasons why the Cowboys are Super Bowl bound

We don’t know what’s going to happen, but it feels like the Dallas Cowboys play their best football when they are pressured to do so each week.

You can chat with or follow Ben on twitter @BenGrimaldi