FRISCO, Texas – Every game in the NFL is difficult, but that doesn't mean all NFL games are created equal.
No one is asking the Cowboys to apologize for winning, but it is fair to point out that the combined record of their last four opponents is 17-28. Washington's playoff hopes hang by a thread, and the New York Giants have already been eliminated from the postseason. New Orleans has an outside shot at a wildcard spot, at the very best.
That won't be the case with this week's opponent, as the Cowboys are staring at another measuring stick contest. Even in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Arizona Cardinals are 10-4 and have already punched a ticket to the playoffs, making this matchup a far cry from recent contests.
"These type of games really define how you're going to go," said Micah Parsons on Wednesday. "So I think if we come out here and do what we're supposed to do, we're kind of putting everybody on notice."
The NFL certainly recognized that fact. This game was a run of the mill 12 p.m. kickoff when the schedule was revealed seven months ago. When both the Cowboys and Cardinals started streaking toward double digit wins, the league flexed it into a 3:30 p.m. kick to get as many eyeballs on it as possible.
As Parsons noted, it could also be a postseason preview, depending on how the seedings shake out in the final two weeks of the season.
"This is obviously a high-profile team, a team we could potentially see in a couple weeks," he said. "So I think we need to make a statement here."
It's not exactly as if the Cowboys have been flying under the radar, to be fair. Their 56-14 demolition of Washington happened on Sunday Night Football. They've also played standalone games on Thanksgiving and Thursday Night Football in the past month.
Still, it's fair to say this is the best team and the most high-profile game the Cowboys have played since their Nov. 21 trip to Kansas City. That opportunity didn't pan out so well, as they failed to score a touchdown in a 19-9 loss.
Going back to the previous point, though, Parsons was sure to note that the Cowboys were working through plenty of their own absences and issues during a stretch that saw them lose three of four games during the month of November.
"I don't really believe in excuses or anything like that. This is the NFL," he said. "We've been playing when we were missing Coop and CeeDee and Tyron and we still had to go out there and play on Sunday. When we were missing D-Law, did we complain? No. We adjusted. When we were decimated, nobody was saying that."
The Cowboys long ago started getting the likes of Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory back from injury. There's at least a chance that Tyron Smith will be available against the Cardinals after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.
It's a far cry from where this team was in 2020, when they hosted Arizona on Monday Night Football the week after Dak Prescott was lost for the remainder of the season and got shellacked, 38-10.
"Obviously, we don't like to lose, didn't like the result. Nor do we like how the season was going, losing everyone," Lamb said. But I feel like this year, having another opportunity, we can get another crack at it."
It's the perfect place to set up the postseason – a high-stakes matchup between two clubs that will have a say in deciding the NFC's champion next month. Rather than shy away from it, the Cowboys are perfectly comfortable acknowledging what it means.
"We get to see who we are, get to define ourselves," Lamb said. "I feel like this is a defining game and a defining moment. I'm excited for Sunday, I can't wait to see how we perform."