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Writer's Blocks: High Stakes & Happy Holidays


FRISCO, Texas – It feels strange to write the holiday column this far in advance.

I mean, I guess it's not that far in advance. The holiday season has been in full swing since the day after Halloween, and Christmas Day is in less than a week.

It still feels like a long way off – maybe because the fate of the Cowboys' season will be decided before it gets here.

Yes, I know that technically they won't be eliminated from the playoffs if they lose on Sunday.

But consider the contrast between these two scenarios: enjoying Christmas as champions of the NFC East on a two-game winning streak, with a home playoff game secured. Or needing a Christmas miracle to backdoor your way into the playoffs, limping through the holidays having lost five of your last eight games.

Those are the options sitting in front of this team, and it's insane to think that those two wildly different scenarios hinge on one game at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

We never thought it would look this ugly, but we always knew it would come down to Dallas and Philly. And now it's going to determine just how happy all our holidays are.

Here's a few more things I'm thinking about in the run-up to Sunday:

1. It's crazy to think Sunday could mark the first time the same club has won back-to-back NFC East titles since 2004. Since the Eagles held sway over the division in the early 2000s, it's been a crapshoot trying to figure out who will win it in any given year.

But I think we should make one thing pretty clear: winning the division is only important because it gets you into the tournament, and it guarantees you a home game once you get there.

That's obviously a big deal, because it improves your odds at the ultimate goal of competing for and winning a Super Bowl. But I don't love the idea that a division banner itself is some great accomplishment.

I've been to stadiums all over the NFL where they hang banners for division championships. I've also covered roughly 70 games at AT&T Stadium, where the only banners on display are for Super Bowls VI, XII, XXVII, XXVIII and XXX.

Winning the division is an important part of the process. It also says a lot about the Cowboys' talent level that they may be capable of doing it two years in a row.

Given the preseason expectations, not to mention the way this season has unfolded, it doesn't mean much else without further success beyond it.

2. I don't have the energy for Pro Bowl snubs. Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have both had fantastic seasons, but you can't sit there and tell me either is definitively better than the players that got selected above them.

Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are all playing at an absurd level, and they all have their teams in the hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones and Mike Evans all lead Amari Cooper in either catches or receiving yards – or both. Ask Cooper himself, and he'll tell you he doesn't disagree.

"I don't put myself above any of the guys who made it," Cooper said Thursday. "I feel like I could've done so much more. So I definitely feel like it was all in my hands, and I came up short of that."

That can be said for both players. If the Cowboys were 9-5 instead of 7-7, they'd both be in the Pro Bowl. And both probably still will make it when all is said and done, because other players are going to drop fur for various reasons.

I guess I just have a hard time calling it a snub if everyone else is deserving.

3. Where I can get annoyed, though, is the lack of respect shown to the right tackle position.

The NFL named six Pro Bowl offensive tackles on Tuesday night, and five of them played on the left side. Trent Brown of the Oakland Raiders, who signed a massive contract in the spring, is the only right side guy who got any love.

Obviously, I'm pointing this out because I think La'el Collins got robbed. The dude has arguably been the most consistently dominant Cowboys offensive lineman this season, and he's certainly one of the best handful of right tackles in the league.

But it's also the position as a whole. Philadelphia's Lane Johnson and New Orleans' Ryan Ramczyk are also Pro Bowl caliber players, but they get lost in the shuffle because of the position they play.

That's not a knock on Tyron Smith, David Bakhtiari or Terron Armstead. Those guys are all great and deserving of being Pro Bowlers.

But in a world where elite pass rushers flip back and forth frequently, I'd like to see some more love shown to the right side.

4. I can't help but chuckle at the idea that Dak Prescott isn't used to dealing with injuries.

Yes, it's true that he had never missed an NFL practice until this week. But the guy got positively beat to hell for much of his college career. As a dual-threat quarterback for Mississippi State, he carried the ball 536 times for 2,521 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Dak once got sacked nine times in a 31-6 loss to Alabama.

"In college probably once every other week, both shoulders," he said. "Yeah I mean, it's no different."

Now, I'm not saying Dak will definitely be as effective as normal. But he's used to missing practice time, and he's used to playing through pain. He can handle it.

5. Regardless of outcome, the takes are going to be piping hot for the quarterback who loses this game.

No one is going to care that Dak Prescott has a bum shoulder, and no one is going to care that Carson Wentz has very little help. The narrative is going to be too powerful to overcome for the guy that can't get the job done.

For Wentz, it's that he can't get over the hump. He played at an MVP level in 2017. But he has yet to win a playoff game, and if he loses to the Cowboys he will have failed to guide a preseason Super Bowl favorite into the playoffs. There are already people who think Nick Foles was the secret to the Eagles' success, and that conversation is only going to grow louder if Philly spends January at home.

For Dak, it'll be a heck of talking point in his upcoming contract talks. One way or another, he figures to become one of the highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL in the coming months. Even if the Cowboys were to franchise tag him, they'd be making a big investment relative to what they're paying now.

How's that going to play if the Cowboys finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs? He has one playoff win under his belt, which is more than Wentz can say, but fans and talking heads will have plenty to say about a new contract if it gets signed after Dak fails to get this team into the playoffs.

None of this is fair. Wentz hasn't had much help all season, while the Cowboys' defense and special teams have been a far bigger problem than Dak and the offense.

Nobody cares. That's part of playing quarterback in the NFL. Fair or not, the guy who loses on Sunday afternoon is probably in line for a long offseason.