And with that the NFL regular season has reached its final week of the season. In what feels like a blur, the Dallas Cowboys have played 15 of their 16 regular season games and surprisingly go into the last week of the season with nothing in the standings to play for. Yet, with the NFC East clinched on the strength of a 4-1 record with one game left to play, this has a much different feel than it did a year ago when the Cowboys weren’t playing for anything because at 7-8 they had already been eliminated from post season contention.
What a difference a year makes.
This game may not mean much to the Cowboys playoff positioning, but there are potential momentum ramifications to consider; if you believe in that sort of thing.
With that, let’s get into this week’s Final Thoughts.
To Rest or Not to Rest
That is the question.
The Cowboys have several players who have battled injuries lately, with Tyron Smith and Zack Martin missing games and DeMarcus Lawrence has struggled with a shoulder problem for a lot of the season. Conventional wisdom would say it’s important to let these players get some rest before what promises to be a physical matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.
As Dan Rogers from Blogging the Boys, pointed out earlier this week, the Cowboys have not fared well in the playoffs when they’ve lost their week 17 game. Head Coach Jason Garrett, a student of history, may feel that winning this game means more to the Cowboys in the playoffs than resting some of their dinged up players.
Why is Jason Garrett so concerned with a "meaningless" Week 17 game? Could it have something to do with the pattern of the team's last six playoff appearances? Maybe finishing the season on a winning note is more important than we think. pic.twitter.com/ysG9bc4J0c
While it may be wise to give certain players a smaller workload, staying on track with your typical game preparation and execution may be more important than letting guys sit out a week.
Will Ezekiel Elliott Win Rushing Title?
Ezekiel Elliott is going to win his second rushing title in the last three years and it won't get close. Todd Gurley, who is second in the NFL in rushing is nearly 200 yards behind Elliott. Saquon Barkley, in third, is 237 yards behind Elliott in the 2018 rushing race. Even if Gurley plays, he'd be hard pressed to catch Elliott, meaning the 2018 rushing title is pretty much his.
As good as he's been this season, that doesn't even tell the story of Elliott's amazing season.
Ezekiel Elliott has set career highs in targets, receptions, and yards, with 91 targets for 77 receptions and 567 yards this season. He's added three touchdown receptions.
It's the second time in his career that he's had more than 1,900 total yards in a season. In 2016, while sitting out the week 17 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, Elliott was only six yards shy of reaching the 2,000 total yard plateau. This season, he sits at 2,001 with a chance to add to that number this week.
If Zeke sees 19 or more touches this week, he will have gone over the 400 touch mark for the first time in his career. With nothing really to play for accept momentum this week, the Cowboys would be wise to give him some work, but let Rod Smith and Darius Jackson carry the load.
The Cowboys get to host what could be Eli Manning’s final game in a New York Giants uniform. After another disappointing season from the Giants and their quarterback, speculation has grown that they could look to move on after this season. It seems odd that number 10 won't be taking snaps for the Giants at some point soon, whether this is his final game with New York or it's a season away. The point is that his time is coming to an end. And that just seems odd.
He's been a fixture in the NFC East since 2004 and has been a thorn in the side of the Dallas Cowboys at times as well. Remember back to the 2007 divisional round game where the Cowboys were flying high after securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? That was the infamous “Cabo trip” game that led to people questioning whether Tony Romo had what it took to be an elite quarterback in the NFL.
Eli's never been considered one of the best in the NFL, but he had his moments against the Cowboys, though they've been fewer the last few years.
DeMarcus Lawrence has always had an excellent sense of humor when it comes to Eli and here's what he had to say when asked about this possibly being Manning's last game with the Giants.
DeMarcus Lawrence on this possibly being Eli Manning's last game with the Giants: "I wish the best for Eli. Congratulations on a successful season, but it's another game for us. What are we supposed to do, take it easy because this is his last one? I don't care."
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 28, 2018
You gotta love DeMarcus Lawrence. He doesn't care about being diplomatic. You almost sense the sarcasm when he says, “congratulations on a successful season.” Whether it's Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, who lead the NFC, or the listless New York Giants, DeMarcus Lawrence brings the same intensity week in and week out.
In all honesty, we should be hoping that New York keeps Eli as QB1 to mentor an early draft pick in this year’s draft. Manning may have had a career that could propel him into the hall of fame on the strength of two Super Bowls, but of late, the Cowboys have enjoyed Manning’s presence in the New York Offense. Since 2013, the Dallas Cowboys are 8-3 against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
They’ve won three in a row against the Giants and lost two close games in 2016, not because Eli was excellent those days.
The Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants both have very little to play for, but in all honesty, the Giants could actually hurt themselves by winning this game.
If the Cowboys win on Sunday, the Giants could pick as high as #4 in next April's draft.
If the Cowboys lose on Sunday, the Giants could pick as low as #12 in next April's draft.
As Bobby Belt points out, the Giants have a lot to lose by winning the game as they could fall out of the top 10 depending on the results of the other games. It's unlikely that they'll go into the game attempting to lose, but they probably aren't going to be trying to win the game either. It doesn't do them any good to win the game other than to say, we beat the Cowboys and finished the season strong.
The Cowboys, however, are attempting to hang onto the momentum they reestablished in the win over the Buccaneers. Losing this game doesn't directly affect how they play against whoever they matchup with in the Wild Card round, but how they play as a team may.
If the Cowboys come into this game and play well, even if they play mostly backups, it will serve them well as they get ready to host their playoff game next weekend. I see the Cowboys coming out trying to send a message early in this game with their starters and then being able to back off and coast to a victory in the second half.