Big Picture: 5 Storylines for Dallas & Washington

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Entering the final three weeks of the 2021 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys are about as close to clinching a division as possible without doing so. Just one more win or another Philadelphia loss will be enough to get the job done. Their first chance to wrap up the NFC East comes this Sunday as the Cowboys (10-4) host the Washington Football Team (6-8). Washington enters on a short week and with several health concerns, while Dallas is looking to improve to 5-0 against their division. Here are five additional storylines for each team heading into Sunday's bout at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Football Team

  • Washington, despite missing multiple key pieces and their top three quarterbacks on the depth chart, jumped out to a 10-0 lead before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-17. Former Cowboys backup Garrett Gilbert received the start after both Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen were unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols. The first quarter went exactly to plan for Washington before the Eagles rattled off 20-straight points thanks to over 500 yards of offense.
  • Heinicke and Allen were not the only members of the Washington roster that were affected by COVID-19 as more than two dozen were unavailable to play against Philadelphia. The outbreak within the locker room started prior to the first matchup with Dallas in Week 14 and on the tail end of a four-game winning streak that got the Football Team back to an even .500 record. Since then, multiple starters and members of the coaching staff have been placed on the Covid/Reserve-list as the team as dropped two straight against divisional opponents.
  • Additional to the COVID-19 struggles, Washington now has the short turnaround of just five days from playing on Tuesday night and facing the Cowboys on Sunday night. The decision was made by the NFL to push the Washington-Philadelphia matchup to Tuesday in hopes that Washington could receive enough players back from COVID protocols to be competitive in Week 15. However, now that they're through Week 15, the next matchup comes extremely quick as they'll travel to Dallas with just Wednesday through Friday to recover.
  • The last two losses combined with a tough upcoming schedule have severely hurt the chances of Washington making the playoffs despite being in a postseason spot just two weeks ago. Now sitting at a mediocre 6-8 record, Washington has a 6% chance to make the playoffs and would have to win each of their remaining three games, and receive some extended help around the league, to have a shot at a postseason spot. Matchups with Dallas this week start the final three before Washington hosts the Eagles before traveling to New York.
  • Much like how Washington would like to forget the second half of their game against Philadelphia, they'd like to avoid another first half like they had against Dallas. The Cowboys jumped out to a 24-0 lead through the first two quarters on the road before Washington scored 20 of the second half's 23 points to make it interesting. Dallas held on to win 27-20 thanks to four takeaways from the defense and by holding Antonio Gibson to just 36 yards on 10 carries on the ground.

Cowboys

  • Dallas notched their third-straight win, all in defensive fashion, with a 21-6 win over the New York Giants this past Sunday. Dallas force four turnovers for the third straight game, the longest such streak since 1994 for a Cowboys defense and held the Giants out of the endzone with just a pair of field goals to their total. Dallas offensively still struggled in the redzone going just two of five inside the 20-yard line and was forced to settle for a Greg Zuerlein field goal on three different occasions.
  • Over their three-game winning streak, Dallas has held opponents to 17, 20, and 6 points and forced a dozen takeaways in the process. All three games were on the road, making it the first time that Dallas has won three consecutive road games since before the 1970 NFL merger. It also got the Cowboys to double-digit wins for the first time since 2018.
  • Along with the streaks that the Dallas defense have put together recently, it was also the fourth time this season where they have forced at least four takeaways in a single game. Amazingly, all four of those games have come on the road. The last team to have more than four such games was the 2005 Carolina Panthers (5), who finished 11-5 and advanced to the NFC championship game. Dallas has the most takeaways in the league since Week 10 with 17 total.
  • Dallas seemingly found their footing against a depleted Giants defense by rushing for over 100 yards and passing for 200. Ezekiel Elliott (knee) appeared as healthy as he's been in weeks while Tony Pollard (foot) impressed in his return to the offense. More importantly, there was a notable level of improvement on the offensive line after making a switch back to Connor Williams as the starter at left guard. Williams, who started the first nine games, was replaced by Connor McGovern as the starter for the last four contests. Williams allowed just one pressure over 71 snaps against New York.
  • After all the complex tiebreakers have been floated around for the last few weeks, things are now extremely simple for the Cowboys to clinch the NFC East… Just win one more. The easiest way to a title is for Dallas to get a win this week against Washington, and they'll be divisional champions. However, there are two other ways for the Cowboys to clinch this week. The second way is for Philadelphia to lose at home to the New York Giants, a game that kicks off at Noon CT on Sunday. Lastly, if Dallas can't beat Washington and the Giants defeat the Eagles, the Cowboys can still clinch with a combination of two or more wins from the following group of teams: Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Patriots, Raiders and Vikings.

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