The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins clash on Sunday night in a winner takes all game that will decide the NFC East champion.
The two sides meet at FedExField in Landover, Md., on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET) in a game that has serious playoff implications. If Washington wins, Dallas will be eliminated from postseason contention. If Dallas wins, Washington will need (a lot of) help from elsewhere.
Were the Redskins to lose, Mike Shanahan’s side would need Minnesota, Chicago, and the New York Giants to lose also, allowing the team to secure the final Wild Card berth. With Green Bay, Detroit, and Philadelphia respectively on the schedule for those sides, Washington would do best to win this one outright.
Win, lose, or draw, Washington (9-6, 4-3 home) has had its best season since 2007, a year in which the side went 9-7 and the last time a postseason trip was made. A win on Sunday would give the Redskins 10 wins for the first time since 2005 and only the third time in 21 years.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III has led the side by example, often playing beyond his years. He is the current favorite (10/11) to be handed the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, ahead of Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck (6/5) and Seattle’s Russell Wilson (13/4), both of whom have led their respective teams to the postseason. Griffin III will be hoping for a similar result this weekend.
The Redskins arrive in Week 17 with a six-game winning streak, the franchise’s longest such streak since a seven-game jaunt in 1997.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys (8-7, 4-3 away) arrive in Maryland on the back of last weekend’s nail-biting 34-31 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. As they seem to have done for much of the season, the Cowboys mounted a comeback late. This time however, the Saints squeaked a victory in the extra frame.
Prior to that loss, Jason Garrett’s side had won five of six, transforming from 3-5 underachievers to 8-6 playoff contenders. A win this weekend will cap that turnaround, and have the Cowboys hosting Seattle in next week’s Wild Card round.
With Minnesota, Chicago, and the Giants all taking to the field earlier in the day, Washington will enter the game knowing exactly what is needed. It’ll also arrive at kickoff confident of a win, thanks in part to a 38-31 win over the Cowboys in Texas on Thanksgiving.
That game saw the Redskins take a 28-3 lead into halftime, only for the Cowboys to claw back into the game. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw a staggering 62 pass attempts in that game while his counterpart, Griffin, tallied 304 yards passing with four touchdowns and one interception. In a rare instance this season, the rookie was limited to just 29 yards on the ground.
The Cowboys will need to limit Griffin again this week as well as running back Alfred Morris. The two have combined to give Washington the best running game in football, averaging 162.3 yards per game. Morris ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,413 yards on the season.
If Dallas needs to worry about Washington’s running game, then the Redskins need to worry about Dallas’s passing game. The Cowboys are third in the league in passing this year, averaging 302.2 yards per game. Only Detroit and New Orleans have dialed-up more yards through the air.
Tony Romo is a big part of that number. The nine-year veteran is third in the league – behind Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford – having tallied 4,685 passing yards on 611 attempts, with a 66.3 completion percentage (6th), and 26 touchdowns (6th).
Romo’s biggest problem came early in the season when he was prone to giving up the football. His 16 interceptions are tied for fifth most on the season, but things are vastly improved at this point in the season. Having thrown 13 picks in the first seven games, including four in one game against the Giants on Oct. 28, he has thrown just three since, and only one over the past four weeks. Romo threw two interceptions against the Redskins on Thanksgiving.
Washington’s defense – which allows 287.7 passing yards per game – could well struggle against this new, focused Dallas aerial attack. But then again, this is a Dallas side that went into New York on the final day of the season last year needing to win, but failing to get the job done.
Washington opened as 3½-point favorites, a spread that hasn’t changed with most online bookmakers. The Redskins have been terrific against the spread this season, compiling a 10-5-0 ATS record. Dallas meanwhile has struggled in covering, tallying a 6-9-0 ATS record. The Cowboys will need to upset the Redskins and the spread this week if they’re to make it to the postseason.
The over/under opened at 50, and has fallen to 49½ with most bookmakers. The total has gone over eight time for the Cowboys this year and nine times for the Redskins. The Thanksgiving game between these sides saw a 46-point total eclipsed by a 69-point game. The over certainly looks the smarter choice this weekend.