FRISCO, Texas — Seeing as the Dallas Cowboys are already in the 2023 NFL playoffs, it's no longer about winning to get in when they visit the Washington Commanders in Week 18, but more so about winning to greatly increase the odds of them staying in longer.
That's because a victory at FedEx Field means clinching the NFC East after months of chasing the Philadelphia Eagles, which promises them a much-needed home game in the playoffs, and the No. 2 seed in the NFC, something that guarantees a second home game if they win their wild card matchup.
It's key the Cowboys understand the magnitude of the moment this weekend, but to not let it overpower their fundamentals and preparation, something that cost them in Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.
"It should really just be the same," said All-Pro pass rusher Micah Parsons. "When you think about it, from Week 1, you're playing for the division. You're playing for playoff hopes. You're playing for Super Bowl hopes.
"I really don't think anything has changed. We're playing for the same thing we've been playing for since Week 1. Mentality shouldn't be different. I'm treating this the same way I treated the Rams or the Seahawks. It's all about us fighting for the division."
This marks the first week of the season wherein the Cowboys have had full control of their own destiny in the NFC East, or at least since pre-Week 1, but Parsons says the mindset has to remain the same as when they were chasing Philadelphia.
"Us having the lead doesn't change the fact we need to go out there and get a division win," he said.
It's a sentiment echoed largely by others in the locker room, including tight end Jake Ferguson, who is having a career season in 2023.
"First, it starts with your routine," said Ferguson. "It's about your process, starting from Monday. We come in, we watch tape and then we flush it because it's on to the next. You've got to do everything in your power to get your body and mind right so that, on Wednesday when we start going over the game plan, we're locked in and there are no hiccups.
"… You don't wanna go overboard and push it too much."
If nothing else, and trust that there is so much else, the Cowboys need to improve upon their 3-5 record on the road heading into the playoffs, and especially considering falling to 3-6 on the season — as concerning as that would be, in and of itself — would also guarantee their path to the Super Bowl is forced through a series of away games.
That's not exactly ideal for the Cowboys, who have yet to figure out the Dr. Jekyll versus Mr. Hyde dynamic over the past several months.
"Just play hard," said former Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore. "We've been playing hard all season so just stick to that routine, and focus. These upcoming games are gonna be very important, so we've just gotta lock in more."
All of the pressure is on the Cowboys in Week 18, and how they respond will largely dictate how this book ends.