As 2022 begins, the 2021 NFL season draws to an end. The Dallas Cowboys are guaranteed another game after Week 17, but not much else.
Saturday night, Dallas will travel to Philadelphia for a meaningless game to put a bow on the season. Win or lose, the Cowboys will host a playoff game the following week. As Dallas prepares for this game, however, there are many uncertainties moving forward.
Prior to last week, all was well in the Cowboys’ world. They had won four straight games, sat in the number two spot in the NFC, and were coming off the highest-scoring performance of any team this season.
Dallas then stubbed their proverbial toe once again when facing a “good” team, losing at home to the Arizona Cardinals. Suddenly their house of cards collapsed, along with any hope of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and likely a second home playoff game.
Not only did the 25-22 loss to Arizona render this week pointless, but it also led to increased scrutiny of the Cowboys’ inability to beat teams with a winning record. That domino was just the first, however, in the process of questioning where this team truly is as the games begin to take on even higher importance.
Should Dallas Cowboys play their starters vs. Philadelphia Eagles in Week 18?
As this week went on, questions as to whether Dallas should play their starters began to be bantered about. While the prevailing wisdom would seem to lean towards resting key players to avoid injury, the organization seems to think (or at least is letting on) that one more week of play is necessary for playoff preparation.
In the times in which we live, however, sometimes those choices get made for you. While the Eagles have 12 players on the COVID list, Dallas is once again having a bout of the annoying virus hit them as well. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, left tackle Tyron Smith, and cornerback Anthony Brown will all likely miss the game due to a positive test.
Three other key players also missed practice Thursday due to other illnesses or injuries. All of a sudden, those best-laid plans are now highly questionable.
Regardless of who plays Saturday night and who doesn’t, the focus needs to be on getting right for the Wild Card round. While every team has question marks and strengths, no team has more extreme polarity than Dallas.
The Cowboys have three of the 15 highest-scoring games of the year. This is only matched by New England. Dallas has also held two opponents (Atlanta and the Giants) to two of the lowest-scoring outputs of the season. Simply put, this team is capable of outscoring anyone or keeping an opponent from scoring.
Unfortunately, Dallas has needed some epic fourth quarters just to make other games appear close. The Cowboys were held scoreless against Denver heading into the fourth, mustered just seven points in three quarters last week, and needed a furious last quarter rally against Las Vegas just to push that game to overtime.
For a team with so many offensive weapons and such a high potency, the machine has too often taken too long to get going. There is also that pesky habit of shrinking when the competition is at their level or higher.
While Dallas has won three games against teams with winning records this year (Chargers, Eagles, and Patriots), only Los Angeles had a winning record at the time of the game. On top of that, that game occurred in Week 2. All four of the Cowboys’ losses in 2021 came at the hands of teams that were .500 or better at the time of the game.
Now, I know you know this, but starting next week, Dallas is going to have to play a game against a team with a winning record. Not only has that not gone so well this season, but recent history has also been unkind in this regard.
Quarterback Dak Prescott is just 8-17 against teams with winning records in his career. In the postseason, he is just 1-2. If things are to finally turn around for this franchise, Prescott is going to have to raise his game to a new level.
Two weeks ago, Dallas looked primed for a long playoff run. Today, there are more questions than answers. Whatever happens Saturday night will not change that. There is only one way to change the narrative and get the ship right once again.
The state of the Dallas Cowboys currently is chaotic at best. While this seems to be commonplace, a playoff win or two would go a long way towards correcting course. The Cowboys are certainly capable. It is almost time for them to prove it.