Long-time NFC East rivals the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders will face off in the final week of the NFL regular season with very different hopes and goals in mind.
The Dallas Cowboys enter Week 18 in the NFL season with a chance to earn their first 13-win season since 2016, and third in the 21st century. However, their spot as the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs is set no matter what happens, so there is good reason for the team to play cautiously on Sunday.
Throughout the week, Dallas owner Jerry Jones has surprisingly insisted the team will play their starters this week. What this really means is that the 7-8-1 Washington Commanders may have to wait well into the second half before Jones comes to his senses and allows head coach Mike McCarthy to empty the Cowboys’ bench onto the field to avoid injuries to key players.
With nothing to gain for the ‘Boys and the Commanders only playing for pride and a .500 finish, let’s make some bold predictions for this odd but typical final-week matchup in the NFL.
Sam Howell has four turnovers in Washington Commanders’ debut
One of the biggest stories in the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders’ matchup on Sunday is the NFL regular-season debut of rookie quarterback Sam Howell. The sixth-round pick was given the nod over veterans Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke after the Commanders were eliminated from the playoff race last week.
However, while the Cowboys’ defensive starters will eventually be removed from the game to avoid injuries, the unit is the top turnover squad in the NFL. That and a rookie in his first start are a bad mix. Expect the defense to force Howell to cough up the ball twice — Dallas leads the league in fumble recoveries — and toss a couple of interceptions in his debut.
Dak Prescott’s interception streak will end by default
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has thrown an interception in six straight games, and in four of those he tossed two. The seven-year veteran has not looked good as the team closes in on the finish line of the season and readies for the playoffs.
Due to the fact that Prescott is likely to be one of the first players removed from the game, expect Prescott’s streak of interceptions to end at six because the two-time Pro Bowler is sure to play cautiously to avoid an injury and be out of the game by half time.
Dallas Cowboys passing attack held under 200 yards
The Washington Commanders’ offense has been messy at times and will start their third different signal caller on Sunday. However, all season long, their defense has been reliable and kept them in the playoff race until the final weeks of the season. The unit is sure to be prideful and looking to hand their rivals a regular-season-ending defeat.
Heading into Week 18, the Commanders D is fifth-best in the league against the pass. Giving up just under 200 passing yards per game. With Prescott likely to play only a couple of quarters, expect the Commanders to look for revenge against backup Cooper Rush, and hold the passing game under 200 yards this time after giving up 223 to Rush in October.
Ron Rivera is fired immediately after a Commanders loss on Sunday
There have been rumors of Ron Rivera being in danger of being handed a pink slip by Washington management for much of the season. Last week might have been a tipping point when he admitted after the game that his decision-making was based on the fact that he did not realize a loss would eliminate them from the playoff chase.
While the team has performed a little better than some expected, another loss and a sixth straight losing season — fourth for Rivera in DC — will mean the end of his tenure with the franchise. However, the Commanders won’t wait until “Black Monday” to cut ties with Rivera. They will send their head coach to the unemployment line immediately following their latest loss.