The five-game win streak ended with a thud last Sunday. But the Cowboys (8-6) still have everything in front of them: another chance to win the NFC East this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9).
Will the Cowboys clinch? The DallasCowboys.com staff gives their 'gut feelings' for the noon (Central) matchup at AT&T Stadium.
Nick Eatman: I don't think this will be an easy game at all for the Cowboys. Nothing really comes easy for this team, especially late in the year. But I do think the Cowboys have been humbled a little bit this week. If anything, the shutout loss to the Colts will serve as a wake-up call. And I think the Bucs are the perfect opponent for this team. They're good enough to be taken seriously, but not good enough to beat the Cowboys – IF – they're playing their best football. I think they will bounce back and play better football this week and get this win. But don't be surprised if the Bucs get some big plays. To me, this is one of the games where Dak Prescott is the best QB on the field and he'll play much better this week. I also expect a very big change in the Red Zone. I even predicted earlier this week they will have a 100 percent touchdown ratio this week. Maybe it's just 1 for 1, or 4 for 4. But I'm calling for a big improvement there. Give me Dallas, 30-21.
Lindsay Draper: It's time to dial in; there is no margin for error this week. The Cowboys are a better team, but Bryan Broaddus referenced it perfectly: whatever dark feeling this team had when they were 3-5 with their backs against the wall, they need to find that feeling again. I think if the Cowboys can somehow (defensively) put their foot on the throat of Tampa Bay EARLY, that's all they'll need. A big pick six or a turnover, maybe even a sack fumble on Jameis Winston – some big statement to show that Dallas is in the driver's seat Sunday – and the Bucs will quit. They don't have anything to play for, so take hold of this game early, and wrap this division up. Cowboys eliminate the Week 17 horror story none of us want to read as they beat the Bucs and wear their NFC East Champion hats all the way home to Christmas dinner.
Rob Phillips: I fully expect the Dallas defense to get back to their level of play. That's a prideful group that wasn't at all pleased with their performance against the Colts. Two keys for me this Sunday: turnovers and finishing drives. The Cowboys have a minus-1 turnover differential this season; the Bucs are 31st at minus-16. Whichever team takes better care of the ball has a much better chance of winning. The red zone is a hot topic around here, and rightfully so, but the offense also needs to get back to some big plays (no pass completions over 20 yards against the Colts). Amari Cooper has been that guy for them and I think he does it again. Cowboys clinch at home and start building back some momentum.
David Helman: My theory this whole week has been: even when the Cowboys have been bad, they haven't been as bad as what they showed us last week. I'm chalking that up as a terrible day at the office by a team that was banged up and perhaps lacking focus. They've got their flaws, but they're better than that. This week, they're playing at home against a pretty bad team that has turnover issues. That sounds like a winning combination to me. With Zack Martin back in the lineup, I think Zeke Elliott and Prescott are primed for big days. I think the Bucs' terrible red zone defense will allow a few touchdowns. From there, I'm counting on the Dallas defense to force Winston into at least one, if not multiple turnovers. Add it all up and it smells like a 34-24 win and a division championship.
Mickey Spagnola: My holiday season expanding gut tells me the Cowboys will right the ship, knock off the Bucs, like 27-20, and put on those NFC East championship hats for the second time in three years. The Cowboys will feed Zeke all he can stomach, run right at that Bucs defense, control the clock and finally wear down a 5-9 Tampa Bay team that has lost six of its past eight games. Look for the Cowboys to grab a couple of picks in this game. While Winston has thrown 13 touchdowns passes, starting seven of the nine games he's played, he's also been intercepted 12 times and sacked 23 times. The Cowboys must make the Bucs pay for just slinging the ball around. Merry Christmas.
Bryan Broaddus: This game comes down to one thing for me. Can this team play with the same hunger and desire that they've played with during the five-game winning streak? It wasn't always perfect but it was exactly what they needed. In the big picture this game is huge. No one wants to go to New York and have to try and win a game there if it comes to that. It won't be pretty but it will be enough. Dallas 26, Tampa Bay 20.