LANDOVER, MD.– There aren't many surprises among the Cowboys' final inactives of the regular season – which is itself a bit of a surprise.
Two starters will sit for Dallas in Week 17, as Doug Free was ruled out with an ankle injury, while Rolando McClain stayed home from the trip due to illness. The other five inactives are Dustin Vaughan, Jakar Hamilton, Dekoda Watson, Donald Hawkins and Josh Brent.
Watson was ruled out Friday with the hamstring injury that has bothered him the last month. Brent practiced this week, but is still recovering from a calf strain suffered two weeks ago. In his place, Kenneth Boatright will be active for this first time this season after being promoted from the practice squad earlier this month.
Vaughan, Hamilton and Hawkins are all healthy scratches.
The decision to sit Vaughan for the 15th time in 16 games looks like a telling indicator of the Cowboys' plan for Tony Romo this week. If Cowboys coach Jason Garrett intended to sit Romo for a significant period of time, it seems plausible he'd want to have a backup option for Brandon Weeden.
Garrett has said all week he intends to play his starters, despite the Cowboys having a relatively clear picture of their playoff fortunes. It would take losses by both Arizona and Seattle to give Dallas a first-round bye in the playoff. The No. 1 overall seed is still technically possible – though it would require a tie between Detroit and Green Bay on Sunday afternoon.
McClain was listed as "probable" on the Cowboys' final injury report of the week, but he came down with the illness on Friday night and was ruled out Saturday afternoon. In his place, rookie Anthony Hitchens will likely man the middle linebacker spot, while Kyle Wilber moves to Hitchens' weak side position. Bruce Carter, who was limited in practice on Friday, is expected to start at the strong side spot.
Jermey Parnell will start at right tackle in place of Free. This will be Parnell's fifth start of the season, as he had to fill in for Free from Week 7-9, as well as Week 16.