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Phillips: Recent Stretch Shows There'd Be No Place Like Home For The Playoffs

FRISCO, Texas – Maybe it was the dream-like sequence I encountered walking into my house Monday morning from New York, bleary-eyed, just in time to tell my wife good-bye on her way to work as a sleepy sun peeked above the horizon.

Mostly, it was hearing the brand-new Gjallarhorn blare each time the Minnesota Vikings made a big play inside the brand-new and deafening U.S. Bank Stadium two Thursday nights ago. And hearing 80,000 (mostly) Giants fans screaming in the bitter cold dusted with snow flurries this past Sunday night at the Meadowlands.

These last two games – one gritty win, one gritty loss -- reinforced exactly why the Dallas Cowboys and the NFC playoff contenders want homefield advantage in next month's playoffs.

I understand the Cowboys won their first six road games and came within a crossbar clank of matching the Giants' 10 points at MetLife Stadium. I'm aware that the Cowboys also lost to the Giants in Arlington, 20-19, in the season opener. I know Jason Garrett preaches playing your best no matter the locale: rival field, parking lot, moon. I understand the element of parity in this league, and yet, I don't care that only 12 Super Bowls since 1975 (including the last two, by the way) have featured the top seeds from the NFC and AFC.

With an 11-2 record and a two-game lead on the rest of the conference, the Cowboys would be much better off clinching homefield sometime in these final three regular-season games and playing the postseason inside the friendlier confines of AT&T Stadium.

No more of these hostile environments, except for their required presence at the Linc in Philly for the regular-season finale on New Year's Day.

Now, playing away from home doesn't fully explain the Cowboys' recent offensive struggles: 24 points combined in two games after averaging 28.7 points per game in their first 11. They converted an ugly 2-of-24 third-down situations (8.3 percent) against the Giants and Vikings. In their first five road games they were 29-of-62 on third down (46.8 percent) – contributing to a No. 2 season ranking (48.5 percent) before the trip to Minnesota. So, noise isn't everything.

We can theorize about a 'rookie wall' for Dak Prescott – a belief that perhaps teams have figured out the standout first-year quarterback's tendencies and know how to neutralize his strengths. Maybe we're not giving enough credit to the Giants' defense for slamming shut a lot of Prescott's passing windows, vertically and underneath, the other night.

The offense wasn't its efficient self against the Vikings, either, but Prescott did finish with a 108.3 passer rating with a touchdown and no turnovers on only 18 pass attempts. The good news is the defense – long considered vulnerable by critics – has played arguably their best two games in weeks.

Prescott has earned patience here, and quite frankly, there shouldn't be any quarterback controversy talk. Sure, it helps to have an A-plus offensive line and running game, but the rookie was a big part of 11 straight wins. He wasn't simply driving a bus.

There's a real test coming Sunday at home. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) have allowed 12.8 points per game during their current five-game winning streak against some pretty good offenses and some pretty good quarterbacks. This past Sunday they held Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints' top-ranked offense to 11 points.

Maybe a two-game stretch at home will help a Cowboys roster that played three games in 12 days over Thanksgiving and then played two formidable defensive fronts on the road in consecutive weeks. We'll see.

If the Cowboys can keep winning in December, they'll have the chance to play at home in January – maybe deep into January.

After a tough two weeks, that would be a welcome sight.

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