A lot has happened since the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 15’s edition of Sunday Night Football:
- The Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football, giving the Cowboys the NFC East, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the NFC’s top seed.
- The Washington Redskins beat the Chicago Bears, putting them at 8-6-1 on the season and depending on the Cowboys on Monday Night Football (I’ll explain in a bit).
- The Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings, putting them at 9-6 on the season and a win-and-clinch scenario away from the NFC North title.
What’s At Stake This Week?
That final little bit about the Green Bay Packers is very pertinent to the Cowboys match-up against the Lions. Detroit enters this game at 9-5… with a win they will clinch a playoff berth (worst case scenario as the NFC’s second Wildcard), but with a loss their hopes remain alive to win the NFC North.
Week 17’s Lions/Packers game has already been flexed to Sunday Night Football as – regardless of what happens between Dallas and Detroit – the winner of the game will win the NFC North. The only way that can change any degree is with a Lions-over-Cowboys win, which would give Detroit some room for error against Green Bay.
The stakes could be even higher in that Lions/Packers game if the Cowboys beat Detroit. Should Dallas topple the Lions, then the Washington Redskins will have an opportunity to clinch that second Wildcard spot themselves next week with a win over the New York Giants. That would mean only the winner from Lions/Packers would head to the playoffs.
Derek Carr And Marcus Mariota: A Lesson Learned
Typically on Christmas Eve a fine gentleman named Santa Claus travels across the world to bring presents and joy to everyone… such was not the case in Oakland or Tennessee.
On the day before Christmas we saw both Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota incur broken fibulas, ending their 2016 seasons. Tennessee was still fighting for a playoff spot, and obviously that hurts a lot, but Oakland was already playoff-bound… simply fighting for their division and other advantages.
The NFL is a cruel, cruel thing. Your season can be taken away from you on one random play, we in Cowboys Nation know that all too well (see: 2015). I’ve cautioned before here at Inside The Star that if/when the Cowboys find themselves in a meaningless game… Tony Romo should not play.
This same notion is applicable to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, if you can name a player that’s important to the Cowboys – he’s involved. While both Carr and Mariota were playing with something at stake, do you really not want to learn the lesson from that? It’s a miracle – a gift – that the Cowboys are where they are, with what they have, and are actually getting healthy (Claiborne, Wilcox, etc.).
Rest Vs Rust
The primary reason why you wouldn’t want to put the important players on ice until football games have consequences again (Saturday, January 14th at the earliest for the Cowboys) is because “we don’t want them to be rusty in the playoffs.”
Do we want anyone to be rusty in the playoffs? Of course not. That goes without saying.
What we want is all of our players… in the playoffs. The Cowboys are at a point where they can have what they want, but yes it comes at the risk of accumulating rust. The counterpoint to that is the risk that’s involved with playing them in two meaningless games… losing them altogether like Oakland and Tennessee lost their quarterbacks.
The Detroit Lions Game Is Essentially Meaningless
The Cowboys will play (depending on when you’ve read this) in Week 16’s finale on Monday Night Football. It was a big loss for ESPN that the Cowboys clinched everything back during TNF and that the Green Bay Packers won on Saturday. Why?
The Cowboys side of things is obvious, they have literally nothing to gain. They have it all. On the other side of things, the Lions really can’t do much in this game. Yes, they can clinch a playoff spot and I acknowledge the importance of that… but Detroit is basically starting the playoffs now with an extra life that they can burn on their first game.
Even if the Lions win, they are playing for the rights to the NFC North and keeping Green Bay out of the playoffs in Week 17. It is essentially the most meaningless meaningful game ever.
An Allowance For The Alternative
I’ve been staunch in the notion that Tony Romo, nor any of the important players on the Cowboys, should see any playing time when things are meaningless. The word “meaningless” literally means that there’s no meaning… so play people who have no meaning to you.
While I don’t agree with it, I understand the argument that players, Romo included obviously, could incur rust with so much time off. As a result, here’s my proposal for how the Dallas Cowboys should handle Weeks 16 and 17 at the quarterback position:
- Dak Prescott plays the first three quarters against Detroit.
- Tony Romo plays the final quarter against Detroit.
- Mark Sanchez plays the entirety of the game in Philadelphia.
I called this an allowance because I’m allotting for time for Tony Romo. It’s not something that I want happening, but if there is a quarter to play him in… it’s this one. The fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions – with the game likely decided – is the safest quarter of the season for Romo. We’re talking about potentially two quarters against what will then be a winded defense who is playing in a pseudo-meaningless game.
Why Is Tony Romo Such A Focus In This Conversation?
Tony Romo is the backup quarterback on the Dallas Cowboys. We all know that.
The reason that Romo and his health are of extremely high priority for us is because of what we’ve learned from this season across the NFL – a backup quarterback is an insane luxury.
Current AFC Playoff QBs: Tom Brady Matt McGloin Ben Roethlisberger Tom Savage Alex Smith Matt Moore No I didn’t make any of those names up
Let me reiterate – Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo is the backup. We all acknowledge this.
We also need to acknowledge the lottery ticket that Tony Romo is if something happens to Dak like we saw with Carr and Mariota. Tony Romo’s health – he’s been hurt three of the last six times he’s put on an NFL uniform and saw action – is of the utmost priority to this team. He isn’t simply a backup quarterback, he’s QB1B. His role should not be diminished by the name assigned to him on the depth chart.
This also has an opposing argument laced with, “well if you think Romo is that injury prone then let’s just roll with Sanchez.” You tell me who you want in a playoff game at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. A rusty Romo that could potentially get hurt or Mark Sanchez? The answer is obvious.
Maximizing Odds With Rest
The notion is that if the Cowboys sit out players in Philadelphia that they’ll go “three weeks without playing.” There are 19 days between the Lions game and Saturday, January 14th (the day that the Divisional Round begins). They are “missing” what would otherwise be two football games in that span. That’s eight quarters of supposedly accumulated rust.
Jason Garrett is this season’s Coach of the Year. It’s not debatable, accept it or don’t – it’s true. If anyone is well-equipped to handle that stretch of missed time with his players, it’s Coach Garrett and his staff.
In a perfect world the Dallas Cowboys would play every available quarter of football, keep “momentum”, and suffer no injuries. Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota just proved that this is not a perfect world.
This is a world – a game – of maximizing odds. We’re playing a game of chess, looking far down the road. You do what you can to put yourself in the best positions for success, and this is it. Huzzah.