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Spagnola: Take Nothing For Granted In This NFL


FRISCO, Texas – Was trying to figure out how to make sense of this nonsensical 2022 NFL season all Sunday afternoon, knowing the day's ramifications heading into Week 18 leaving so much unexpectedly on the line.

Then Tony Romo came to my rescue while doing the CBS late afternoon game between Green Bay and Minnesota, he himself trying to put into perspective this topsy-turvy NFL when saying this:

"The history of the world is written every Monday."

No kidding.

So many come to all these premature conclusions that seemingly are knocked down weekly. When will we ever learn?

Think about it. Like four weeks ago, who would have given the 4-8 Green Bay Packers a shot at winning the final game of the season to finish 9-8 and claim the NFC's final of three wild-card berths? Who would have thought the once 4-7 Detroit Lions could claim that same final wild-card spot if they beat the Packers to finish 9-8 on Sunday and if the 5-11 Rams somehow beat 8-8 Seattle?

Or take Seattle, with a chance for the elusive final NFC wild-card spot if Detroit beats the Packers and the Seahawks beat the Rams.

And for sure, if we just go back three weeks ago, with the Philadelphia Eagles sitting there at 13-1, best record in the entire NFL, needing just one more victory to clinch the NFC East title and the most coveted No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs accompanied by a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout.

Plus, guarantee you not a soul out there late afternoon back on Dec. 18 after the Cowboys were beaten by the erstwhile 5-8 Jaguars, 40-34, on a walk-off, tipped-pass interception return for a touchdown in overtime that they would have a rat's chance of not only winning the NFC East in the final game of the season this Sunday, but also a long odds chance of claiming the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Ha, welcome to the 2022 NFL, when as Yogi Berra once famously said, "It's not over until it's over."

Like, even though the Eagles still were searching for the elusive 14th win, who would have thunk the 6-9 Saints would go on the road and beat the Eagles, 20-10. And even if the Eagles were starting their backup quarterback Gardner Minshew again, the same guy who put 355 passing yards on the Cowboys, all creating Week 18 drama in the NFL.

Yep, better take it from now Cowboys 11th-year veteran wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who certainly has seen a lot during his previous 10-year career with the Colts.

"You've got to continue to play the way you play," Hilton says out of experience, knowing very little in this league is ever certain. "What if you mess around and lose and then (another team) wins? It will make you crazy.

"Just play and let the chips fall as they may."

So welcome to the Cowboys' final game of the season, Sunday afternoon, 3:25 p.m. at Washington, when the chips have a chance to fall their way. But first and foremost, they must win just outside the nation's capital. As most already know, if the Cowboys beat Washington and the 9-6-1 Giants, with the No. 6 NFC wild-card playoff seed already clinched, beat the now 13-3 Eagles, the Cowboys become the first team since the Eagles from 2001-04 to win back-to-back division titles at 13-4, bettering the then 13-4 Eagles on basis of a better division record, 5-1 to 3-3.

That when thought it would be a miracle after that Jacksonville loss for the Cowboys to win their final three games by beating the Eagles, Titans and Commanders, and the Eagles to lose their final three games by falling to the Cowboys, Saints and Giants, who, by the way, already have beaten the Eagles once this year.

Though, as Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy says, trying to place more practical importance on this game, "This is about winning. It's a division game."

But not only that, winning a game and the NFC East, and these odds are likely longer for the Cowboys this chance to win the NFC East, but if the Arizona Cardinals at but 4-12 and starting their fourth quarterback this season – now 27-year-old David Blough a second straight game after arriving but a couple of weeks ago – can go to San Francisco and beat the 49ers, well, voila, the NFC No. 1 seed goes to your Dallas Cowboys.

A whole lot of ifs, for sure. But you know what? In this 2022 NFL season, better not take anything for granted by invoking common sense.

"Focus-wise, we need to be focused on this week," said veteran linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who now believes he'll be ready to return from the pinched nerve in his shoulder for the start of the playoffs. "You never know what will happen."

Boy, he's got that right, and why the Cowboys, already assured of the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and a first-round rematch with the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay, can't mail it in Sunday against the Commanders. Because how bad would they feel if all these "ifs" come to fruition and they didn't take care of their end of the bargain.

Now, even if all these chips don't fall their way, say the Cowboys win, the Eagles lose and San Francisco wins, the Cowboys would earn the NFC No. 2 seed, accompanied with a first-round home game and playing the still up-for-grabs seventh seed, either Green Bay if the Packers defeat Detroit, or Detroit if the Lions beat the Packers and the Rams beat the Seahawks, or Seattle if the Seahawks win and the Lions win.

But you never know, right? I mean, who in their right mind there in the fourth quarter Sunday of the Saints-Eagles game, with the Saints hanging on to a precarious 13-10 lead, thought the Eagles, with the ball in their hands a final time, would lose the game, Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore intercepting Minshew for a game-clinching pick-six.

That's why after the 12-4 Cowboys defeated the Titans, 27-13, Thursday night, just four days after beating the Eagles, 40-34, Dak Prescott pointed out the importance of that final game of the season. No matter the once 7-5 Commanders have gone 0-3-1 in their last four games to become eliminated from the playoffs, Dak said this when he was asked if he would turn into a Saints fan on Sunday.

"I'm a Saints fan," Prescott said, before cutely adding, "I was born in Louisiana. This is what the league wanted with putting the division games at the end. And I think it's awesome. You look around the league and, you know, I'm looking forward to watching football this weekend. Looking forward to the Monday night game. This is the way it's supposed to be.

"We've just got to keep playing. The biggest thing, you know, and obviously we want the Saints to win, but we want to line up and play for as much as we possibly can. We'll line up in Washington, and I think that that'll be the best situation for us."

No doubt, especially now, and there is no scoreboard watching since all these games will be played at the same time Sunday afternoon. Because you never know by Monday morning just what the history of the 2022 NFL season is going to be.

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