Nov 23, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (56) and Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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Cowboys aim to seal NFC East title vs. Commanders

Eliminated from playoff contention, the Washington Commanders can still deliver a parting gift to an NFC East rival.

Mired in a seven-game losing streak, the Commanders (4-12) welcome the Cowboys (11-5) for the regular-season finale on Sunday, knowing a Washington win could erase Dallas from the top of the division standings and open the passing lane for the Philadelphia Eagles to crash into first.

If the Cowboys win, Dallas would be the NFC East champion and the No. 2 seed in the conference. The Cowboys would head home for a wild-card playoff game at AT&T Stadium, where they are 8-0 this season.

“I like where we’re at,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. “Obviously we would’ve liked to have won them all this past month, but I think clearly the adversity and the type of games we’ve been in will serve us well moving forward. I think being healthy is the most important statistic going into the playoffs.”

The Cowboys aren’t entirely healthy entering the game with guard Tyler Smith (foot) and nose tackle Johnathan Hankins (knee/ankle) nursing injuries. Hankins could play after missing the past three games, McCarthy said.

One player the Commanders aren’t likely itching to see this week is CeeDee Lamb. The Dallas wide receiver leads the NFL with 122 catches and is second with 1,651 receiving yards, establishing single-season franchise records in each category. Lamb had only four receptions for 53 yards and a TD in the Cowboys’ first matchup with Washington this season.

“He’s really just getting going and I can tell you as long as I’m here, he’ll probably stack these records and each and every year, to be honest with you,” said Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, the NFL leader in TD passes with 32.

The Cowboys’ 45-10 blowout of the Commanders in November led to the firing of Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

Explosive plays have contributed to Washington’s undoing. No team has allowed more 20-yard pass plays, and the Commanders have only two interceptions in the past 10 games.

The Commanders rank last in total defense (385.8 yards per game), 31st in pass defense (259.3 yards per game) and aren’t built for comebacks with an NFL-worst minus-12 turnover margin.

Any traction Washington gains on the defensive side of the ball depends on the availability of interior force Jonathan Allen (knee), but he didn’t practice Wednesday. The two starting cornerbacks are ailing as well, as Kendall Fuller (knee) sat out the Wednesday practice while Benjamin St-Juste (concussion) was limited.

Dallas lost on the road to the Commanders 26-6 in the Week 18 game a year ago in Sam Howell’s first career start. The Washington quarterback went 28 of 44 for 300 yards and an interception in the Thanksgiving Day defeat at Dallas.

On Wednesday, Howell was named Washington’s starter over Jacoby Brissett. Howell started in Week 17 after Brissett was a pulled off the stage and made inactive on the roster pregame due to a hamstring injury. Brissett was limited in Wednesday’s practice.

The game could be curtains for Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, who expected he could be on the chopping block under new ownership with greater expectations for a Washington franchise that last won a playoff game following the 2005 season.

“There’s nothing you can do about what’s going to happen beyond Sunday, so the focus should be on Sunday,” Rivera said.

While the QB pecking order for Week 18 was up to Rivera, new hires for the president or general manager jobs could make their own decisions on the direction at quarterback for 2024. The Commanders enter the season finale in position to draft at No. 2 overall in April.

“Well, I’d like to think we’re in a better place,” Rivera said Tuesday when asked if the franchise is better off than when he was hired Jan. 1, 2020. “Probably a fairer way to say it. I most certainly do appreciate my time here, and we’ll see what happens. And again, we’ll focus on what’s coming first on Sunday, and that’s getting ready for Dallas.”

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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