FRISCO, Texas – Let's just make sure we're being smart this weekend.
There's the mantra I find myself repeating as the Cowboys race toward this Saturday night regular season finale in Philadelphia:
Plenty can be gained with a good showing at Lincoln Financial Field, but let's just be smart about it.
For better or for worse, the hay is mostly in the barn on this 2021 regular season. The Cowboys' loss to Arizona last weekend has taken their playoff positioning out of their hands. Yes, a win against the Eagles on Saturday night puts them in position to climb higher in the seeding order – but it would also require favorable results from across the NFC on Sunday afternoon.
To climb up to No. 3 in the pecking order, Dallas would need a win Saturday night, coupled with a San Francisco upset of the L.A. Rams and a Seattle upset of Arizona. To move up to No. 2, the Cowboys would need both of those results, combined with a Carolina win over Tampa Bay.
Possible, sure. Likely? No.
And so I'm back to asking myself just how much the Cowboys want to risk in the name of a slim possibility.
All things considered, they've had remarkable health to this point in the season. Gut-wrenching as it was to see, losing Michael Gallup to a torn ACL last weekend was the first injury that has knocked a regular starter out for the duration of the season. They've weathered all their other major injuries, as guys like DeMarcus Lawrence, Neville Gallimore and Tyron Smith are all healthy and playing again. Even Blake Jarwin has a chance to return from the hip injury that has sidelined him since Halloween.
Like the glass-half-full buzzkill that I so obviously am, I can't help but wonder if that could change if the Cowboys' starters play 70 snaps on Saturday night.
I know, I know. This is the part where you remind me that the Cowboys' offense looked disjointed and confused in that 25-22 loss to Arizona on Sunday afternoon. What type of idiot wouldn't want them to work out the kinks against a 9-7 Eagles team this weekend?
I guess the kind that doesn't really believe in the concept of week-to-week momentum. If it's the all-encompassing force it's being billed as, where was it against the Cardinals. The Cowboys went into that game off the strength of one of their most impressive performances the week before, having dropped 497 yards and 56 points on the Washington Football Team the night after Christmas.
Obviously, the Cardinals are a much better team than Washington, but it was easy to note that a lot of the same problems from the previous six weeks cropped up – almost as if that 56-14 beatdown had never happened.
To be 100% clear, I absolutely think the Cowboys have the talent and the ability to correct the issues that have plagued their offense since the bye week. I'm just not convinced they'll be fixed by a few dozen snaps during the last weekend of the season – especially against an Eagles roster that might be decimated by COVID-19 absences.
Now, I'm also not completely obtuse. As Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy pointed out on Monday afternoon, the roster rules of the NFL don't make it possible to completely punt on a regular season game. This isn't college football, where you have 85 scholarship players at your disposal every week.
McCarthy's going to have to designate 48 guys to play in this game. If half of them don't take the field, it's going to be a ridiculous strain on the rest of the roster – not to mention make ancillary roles like special teams units borderline impossible.
Still, there's an intelligent way to play this. By all means, give Dak Prescott & Co. a few series to work on timing and protections – but I'd gladly have them sitting down by the third quarter.
Micah Parsons won't be making this trip because of COVID-19, but I'm thinking something similar for his fellow defensive standouts like Trevon Diggs, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory.
The time for seizing control of the seeding was last week. Had they found a way to beat the Cardinals, the Cowboys would have a wonderful shot at locking up the No. 2 overall seed this weekend – ensuring that they wouldn't have to go on the road until the conference championship game, if at all.
That opportunity isn't gone, but it has dwindled. And when you're asking me to weigh risk versus reward, I'd way rather go into my home playoff game with a healthy, rested roster than some sense of momentum – which honestly might just amount to the peace of mind of fans and media not picking the team apart during the buildup to the start of the postseason.
By all means, Cowboys, play the game and try to win. With any luck, an Eagles team with plenty of its own roster concerns won't put up too much of a fight, given that they have their own playoff game on their minds. Perhaps just be mindful of where you are and what's awaiting.
I can think of worse problems to have than entering the postseason on a losing streak.