The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants both find themselves facing the same scenario heading into their regular-season finale on Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, N.J. — win and wait.
The victor of their contest at MetLife Stadium will keep its NFC East Division title hopes alive for at least a few more hours. But both teams need a victory by the Philadelphia Eagles over the visiting Washington Football Team on Sunday night to clinch the crown and become just the fifth team since the NFL-AFL merger to enter the playoffs with a losing record, and only the third during a 16-game season.
The Giants (5-10), who bring a three-game losing streak into the contest, also could become the first team to advance to the postseason with a 6-10 record. Both Seattle (7-9, 2010) and Carolina (7-8-1, 2014) made the playoffs with losing marks while Cleveland and Detroit also qualified for a special 16-team playoff tournament with 4-5 records during the strike-shortened 1982 season.
Here’s the kicker. Providing they get an assist from the Eagles, the winner of Sunday’s elimination game not only gets to claim the NFC East crown but also will go into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed and will likely host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the wild-card round.
First-year Giants coach Joe Judge made it clear during a Zoom call with reporters that he wanted his team to concentrate on trying to snap its seven-game losing streak to the Cowboys (6-9) and not the possibility of playing in the postseason.
“Our focus still needs to remain on the Cowboys,” Judge said. “That’s the priority this week. We remain focused on improving as a team. We have a division rival coming up ahead, it’s a big game for us. Obviously, there are implications. As I’ve said all along, those games now don’t exist. Until I can talk about any kind of opponent coming up beyond who we’re playing, there’s not a conversation to be had. Our focus remains on the Cowboys.”
“I’m just focused on Dallas,” added center Nick Gates. “We have to beat Dallas first to be able to even think about the playoffs. After we beat them, we have to see if Washington wins. I’m just focused on Dallas and trying to give ourselves the best opportunity.”
The Cowboys bring a three-game winning streak into the contest including a 37-17 victory over the Eagles last Sunday as Andy Dalton threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns and Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries.
“A win is a win. No matter how you get there, a win is a win,” Elliott said when asked about the possibility of winning the NFC East with a losing record. “So, I mean, if we win the division at 7-9, it’s the same as winning it at 14-2.”
Besides, many wrote the Cowboys off after losing starting quarterback Dak Prescott to a season-ending injury in the first meeting with the Giants in Week 5. Dalton came off the bench to finish 9 of 11 for 111 yards and lead a game-winning drive capped by Greg Zuerlein’s 34-yard field goal as time expired in the 37-34 victory.
“You go into the playoffs with a 0-0 record, so I mean, winning the division, it doesn’t matter what the record is.” Elliott, who needs 63 rushing yards to hit the 1,000-mark, said. “If you win it, you win it.”
Four Cowboys — safeties Darian Thompson (concussion) and Donovan Wilson (illness), linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (ankle) and cornerback Rashard Robinson (knee) — didn’t practice Wednesday while corner Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring, groin) and safety Xavier Woods (ribs) were limited. All-Pro guard Zack Martin, on injured reserve with a calf injury, and defensive back Steven Parker (ankle) were both designated for return but owner Jerry Jones said on his radio show it was “unlikely” Martin, who didn’t practice Wednesday, would play Sunday.
Wide receiver Golden Tate (calf) and fullback Eli Penny (illness) both did not practice Wednesday for the Giants but quarterback Daniel Jones (hamstring) was a full participant as was corner Darnay Holmes (knee). Tight end Evan Engram (calf), safety Jabrill Peppers (ankle) and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (ribs) were limited.
–Field Level Media