By Kevin McGuire
The Dallas Cowboys have home-field advantage wrapped up for the NFC playoffs and have already gone 13-2. They’re left with little to prove in their upcoming New Years Day matchup against the (6-9) Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Will that mean the Cowboys will rest some key players to avoid potential injury in the regular season finale against the Eagles?
Cowboys on Offense
The Cowboys put up 42 points on Monday night against a potential future playoff opponent in the Detroit Lions (the Lions will play for the NFC North and a playoff spot on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers). They were clearly not interested in giving key players an early chance to rest up for the postseason just yet.
Dez Bryant had his best game of the season by accounting for three touchdowns, including a game-tying score right before halftime and a touchdown pass later in the game.
Are the Cowboys showing their cards before the postseason begins? Time will tell, but the bread and butter to the season has been the reliable play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and the MVP-caliber season of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
Prescott had a rough outing for a while the last time the Eagles played the Cowboys, but the rookie out of Mississippi State managed to lead the Cowboys to an overtime victory with a pair of touchdown passes. Elliott rushed for 96 yards in the game, and Prescott picked up 38 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in the 29-23 win.
Cowboys on Defense
Dallas has allowed 21 points or fewer in each of their last four games and enter the last game of the regular season with the NFL’s 12th-best total defense. Putting pressure on Carson Wentz will be the focus of the Cowboys defense, but they have just 25 sacks (25th in the NFL) and have picked off just nine interceptions this season (ranked 25th in the NFL, tied with Cleveland). Teams can throw against the Cowboys, but the Eagles have to make plays with their receivers, and that has not gone very well this season.
Former Penn State linebacker Sean Lee continues to be a consistent player in the middle of the Dallas defense, with a team-leading 145 tackles this season, including 93 solo tackles.
Cowboys Player to Watch
Barry Church, Defensive Back: Barry Church is coming off a big game against the Detroit Lions on Monday night in which he recorded 12 tackles, a season high. Look for him to try and feed off of that performance against the Eagles receivers.
This one is difficult to predict due to the uncertainty of who will play for the Cowboys, and how long they’re kept in the game. If Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett makes the decision to play key players for a bulk of the game in an attempt to keep them fresh before a bye week in the postseason, then it should be challenging for the Eagles to come out on top. But if key players like Elliott are given an early rest or get a chance to sit the entire game, that could bode well for the Eagles. Regardless, beating Dallas is not going to be easy for the Eagles unless Philadelphia can play as clean a game as they did against the New York Giants a week ago.