ARLINGTON, Texas – You could make your head spin with all the scenarios that sit in front of this Cowboys team with one week left in the season.
Two things are clear in the wake of a deflating loss to Arizona: the Cowboys are still assured the home playoff game that comes with winning the NFC East. We also know now that their regular season finale will be coming a day early.
With Dallas and Philadelphia both having clinched playoff spots, the NFL announced Sunday night that their Week 18 divisional tilt will take place Saturday, Jan. 8, at 7:15 p.m.
Beyond that, where they wind up in the seeding is largely out of their control.
"I don't care who I play, I'll line up against anybody," said Micah Parsons following the game.
The Cowboys entered the afternoon with a chance to maintain control of the No. 2 seed in the NFC bracket, given their tiebreaking advantage in a three-team tie with Tampa Bay and the L.A. Rams. The 25-22 loss to Arizona bumps them down to the No. 4 seed, and they'll need some help to climb out of it.
Without climbing too far into the weeds, at 11-5 the Cowboys would need to beat Philadelphia on Saturday. Having done that, they'd still need multiple teams – namely, the Cardinals and Rams – to lose in order to move up to the No. 3 seed. If both NFC West teams and Tampa Bay were to lose next week, they could theoretically retake the No. 2 seed – though that seems like a faint possibility.
It's enough to prompt speculation that the Cowboys would be better off treating next week's matchup with the Eagles as a chance to rest, rather than risk injuring starters in a game that's unlikely to improve their standing.
Asked about it Sunday evening, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he'd worry about that as he works his way past this game and into next week.
"We'll talk about that tomorrow," he said.
There are obvious benefits to both choices. While the Cowboys could risk injury by playing their starters next week, there's also something to be said for staying sharp and establishing some sort of positive momentum heading into the postseason. That seemed to be the course of action favored by Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
"I want to see them play," Jones said. "That's a playoff team, likely, that we're playing in Philadelphia – quite possibly. We need to play a playoff game. This is what gets you ready to go."
Of course, regardless of their decision, the Cowboys are staring at the very possible scenario of a rematch with the Cardinals in the postseason. Arizona currently has a chance to win the NFC West, but a Rams win over San Francisco next weekend would lock them into the No. 5 seed – which could very likely mean a return trip to AT&T Stadium.
Fresh off the end of a painful loss, plenty of Cowboys players welcomed the prospect of another meeting.
"To get to where we go, we've got to play the best," said Dak Prescott. "Obviously this team right here gave us their best shot and we came up three points short. If we start this tournament off against them, we're excited about it."
Prescott said he plans on playing next weekend against the Eagles. That's not a surprising sentiment, though it'll be interesting to see the organization's thought process as the postseason picture becomes clearer.
For the time being, one thing seems clear amid a dizzying number of possibilities: the Cowboys missed an opportunity Sunday against the Cardinals, and they'd love a chance to rectify it.
"Damn right," said DeMarcus Lawrence. "What is it to elaborate? They came out, they gave us their best shot tonight. We came out, we competed. We're just going to get better from it. But if we see them again, they going to get it all from us."