No matter which team wins on Sunday, the NFL East champion will have a record of 9-7. Either the Dallas Cowboys, or the New York Giants will emerge with the title of “champion” regardless of a lackluster season, riddled with boneheaded mistakes and poor play. The once strong division is suffering, not from a poverty of stars, but from a deluge of penalties, interceptions, and generally poor play.
It is ironic that the division team with the worst record, the Washington Redskins, is a team that is looking stronger at the end of the season when it counts. The Redskins have a record of 2-3 in their last five games. It doesn’t sound great, but it’s the same record that both the Cowboys and Giants, the title contenders, have over the same period.
The Philadelphia Eagles, who are 3-2 over the last five games, have a 4-1 record against the division teams, displaying once again that head coach Andy Reid is the coach to fear in the division. With a win against the Redskins this weekend, the Eagles can post an admirable 5-1 record in division play, but they will end the season in second place at best.
Three Things That Need to Happen for a Cowboys Victory
First, the Cowboys have to win the turnover battle. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been prone to interceptions recently, and the Cowboys will need the advantages that turnovers give them. The biggest advantage is that intercepting a Manning pass can stop what often turns out to be an undeniable momentum when Manning is connecting with receivers.
Winning the turnover battle will require much better play from the pass rushers on the Cowboys side of the ball as well as an elevated performance by the Dallas secondary, particularly the play of Terence Newman who has been beaten badly on many routes since coming back from an early season injury.
Secondly, at the line of scrimmage, the Dallas line, offensively and defensively, must win the battle over the running game. The Cowboys offensive line is shaky, though they have performed very well at times during the season. They are young, but they have to play like savvy veterans and without stupid penalties.
The defensive front line simply has to beat their blockers in the one-on-one game of line play. If Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs are allowed to run through the line as Jacobs did in his last encounter with the Cowboys, the game will be over.
Getting Giants turnovers will be relative to how much Manning has to pass. Combined, Jacobs and Bradshaw have only lost one fumble among them this year. A controlled running game by the Giants will reduce turnovers, and the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys, Rob Ryan, will have to take care of the running game strategy on defense.
It sounds absurd to suggest that a Cowboys victory depends on how much Manning has to pass, especially given his skill, but when the ball is up in the air, the Cowboys actually have a better chance of winning the turnover game, which is the key to their victory.
Thirdly, head coach Jason Garrett will have to be at his best. In spite of the confidence crushing event of the previous week, when owner Jerry Jones went to the sidelines to conference with Garrett about keeping quarterback, Tony Romo, and running back, Felix Jones, out of the game, Garrett will have to call the plays and take the risks that are associated with winning championships. He cannot allow himself to second guess, wondering WWJD (What would Jerry do?).
My strong hunch is that the Cowboys season will end on Sunday. They may win the turnover battle, but the Giants have a running game that the Cowboys have not shown themselves capable of stopping. With the Giants’ strong running game, Dallas will be neutralized, in spite of how well their offense plays.
If the Cowboys lose, and Philadelphia wins, the Cowboys will move from first to third place in the division, and it will be the position that accurately reflects the disappointing season they have had.