FRISCO, Texas – In the big picture, this week's game at MetLife Stadium won't mean much.
Hours after Dallas clinched the NFC East on Sunday, the Chicago Bears defeated the San Francisco 49ers, which assured they'd finish with a better record than the Cowboys.
Regardless of what the Cowboys do against the New York Giants, they will be the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Even if the game doesn't seem important, though, don't try telling that to the Cowboys.
"I don't think we can approach it that way," said Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday. "We can't afford to take a week off. That's not even an option. We've got to attack this week the same way we've been attacking these games – it's must-win and we've got to go out there and get that win and finish this season off right."
That's got to be music to his head coach's ears. Jason Garrett spoke to reporters on Monday following the win, and he said that – with the obvious exception of injury concerns – he plans to prepare for Sunday's trip to the Meadowlands as if it were any other game.
"From the outside, people will say there's nothing to gain from this game based on where we are, where other people are, what our seed may or may not be," Garrett said. "But to us it's just about going to work this week and practicing the right way and then going to play the right way."
That mindset is understandable, given the way the Cowboys' offense performed against Tampa Bay. They sputtered throughout the afternoon in a 27-20 win, struggling to consistently maintain drives and finishing with just 232 total yards of offense.
If you discount the two touchdowns that were directly created by the Dallas defense, the Cowboys only put together 13 points on three scoring drives.
Factor all of that together, and it makes sense that the Cowboys might not want to take a week off.
"I want to play, and I think a lot of these guys in here want to play as we talk about things that we want to get better on, we need to improve" said Dak Prescott. "This is a good game for us to do it, against a good team that has been playing better football in the later part of the season."
Prescott's point is certainly true. After slumping to a 1-7 record in October, the Giants have rebounded to play .500 football in the second half of the season, posting a 4-3 mark since the start of November. On Sunday, they jumped out to a 17-7 lead on Indianapolis before falling, 28-27, in a Colts comeback win.
The Cowboys are undoubtedly happy they won't be facing Eli Manning and Co. with a division title on the line. But even if the game won't affect the playoff picture, it's clear the Cowboys don't want to completely write it off.
"We can't back down from no fight, it don't matter what it is," said DeMarcus Lawrence. "If they want me to go out there and make some plays for the team, I'm with it. If they don't want me to, it's up to them."
Lawrence's point is also fair – and it'll be interesting to see how the Cowboys handle it. At this stage of the season, every NFL player is dealing with an injury of some sort. Sean Lee missed this game as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, while Zack Martin worked his way back from a knee injury this week. Anthony Brown also missed the game with back spasms, while Tyrone Crawford exited with a neck injury on just the second play of the game.
It'll ultimately be up to Garrett to see how they handle their injury concerns.
"Zack is one that you certainly have to keep an eye on and see how he does with all the work that he got in the ball game. Tyrone Crawford is the obvious one that we had," he said. "But for the most part, everybody else seemed to do fairly well. We're still monitoring where Anthony Brown is based on the back injury from last week. So we'll see what his availability is as the week goes on. But for the most part it was a fairly clean game."
The Cowboys will undoubtedly weigh those things as they put together a game plan for Week 17.
Other than that, though? As the Cowboys look to maintain their momentum, it sounds like it'll be full steam ahead.
"We've got some work to do out here, I think we'll all agree," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "We don't want to … go into the playoffs with dangling participles — loose ends."