FRISCO, Texas – For the fourth consecutive season, playoff implications aren't going to be a factor in the Cowboys' regular season finale.
It still feels like just yesterday that the Cowboys were fighting for their playoff lives on the last night of the season, but in reality 2011-13 was a long time ago. For better of for worse, this team has had its postseason fate locked down heading into Week 17 since 2015.
This year, it's obviously for better. Regardless of what happens Sunday, the Cowboys will host a playoff game as the NFC's No. 4 seed next weekend. Now, it's just a matter of waiting to see who they play and when the game is.
While we wait on those answers, there's still a game to be played. It's unusual for a Cowboys-Giants game to feature such low stakes, but that's where we are heading into 2019. So let's try and get an idea of what this game might look like.
· The big question is, who plays and who doesn't? Jason Garrett has been consistent that if a player is healthy, he's going to play. With that being said, I would expect to see Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott play in this game. You will likely see Prescott play more than Elliott. Someone that's not likely to play is Zack Martin, who came back for the Tampa Bay game but sure could use a game off to get ready for the playoffs. In Martin's place will be Connor Williams, who started at left guard the previous time these two clubs met.
· Look for Tavon Austin to play a big role in this game. Austin has not suited up since the Jacksonville game in Week 7, but he is now healthy and ready to go. The last time the Giants saw Austin he was on the receiving end of a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott. My feeling is that Scott Linehan has some packages ready for Austin to take advantage of his explosive speed, which the Giants struggled with last time.
· With no Tyrone Crawford in the lineup, look for Randy Gregory to get the start at right end in his spot. Gregory has been outstanding in the opportunities he's received this season and working against Nate Solder should be a favorable matchup. Solder doesn't have the foot quickness he once had and Gregory's strength is his first step to capture that edge.
· I mentioned Ezekiel Elliott playing in this game, but I also heard through the grapevine that Rod Smith and Darius Jackson received some extensive work during the week. I could see Elliott maybe playing a series or two, then Smith and Jackson carrying the load the remainder of the ball game. I am excited to see the physical running style of Jackson in this game -- especially if the line can create some space for him.
· Another week and another big time tight end that the Cowboys defense must face. Evan Engram has missed his share of games this season dealing with injury. How you defend Engram is the same way you defend Zach Ertz in Philadelphia. Jeff Heath generally is the primary guy when it comes to covering these tight ends. Keep an eye on Byron Jones in this game, as he may split some snaps in coverage with Heath. With Anthony Brown back in the lineup, the Cowboys have enough corners to play dime if they need to in order to get Jones on Engram. I am not sure how much you'll see this but it could be a coverage they have in their bag of tricks.
· Look for Sean Lee to be back in the lineup after sitting as a healthy scratch last week due to some need at other positions. I've been told that Lee has been taking more practice snaps each week in order for the opportunity to see more playing time going forward. Lee has a history of playing well in these divisional matchups, and I am sure he's looking forward to getting back out on the field against the Giants.
· After watching the Giants this week on offense, one area of concern has to be Saquon Barkley and how many times during a game where he bounces the ball to the outside. I promise that both Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard were on their guys about rallying to the ball quickly and tackling Barkley before he has a chance to get to the outside. Several of his big runs have started with him probing to the inside, and then before you know it, he's on the outside. You have to tackle well against this guy or he's going to make a big play.
· My weekly guess at the Cowboys inactives: QB Mike White, LB Justin March-Lillard, LB Chris Covington, OG Zack Martin, OT Tyron Smith, DT David Irving, DE Tyrone Crawford.