Cowboys can clinch the NFC East by beating the last-place Commanders

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver KaVontae Turpin (9) catches a touchdown pass in front of Washington Commanders cornerback Danny Johnson (36) during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth) (Michael Ainsworth, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press All Rights Reserved)

The task in front of the Dallas Cowboys is simple: win and clinch the NFC East. Their opponent is the last-place Washington Commanders, who have lost seven in a row under a lame-duck coach.

Easy, right?

Recommended Videos

It should be, and the Cowboys could be celebrating their division title in the same visiting locker room the San Francisco 49ers did when they wrapped up the conference's top seed. But Dallas — though not in the same circumstances — got whacked 26-6 by Washington at FedEx Field a year ago in the regular-season finale, and the memory of that game and what's at stake now is plenty of fuel not to trip up this time.

"We’ve got an opportunity to win the division and go out there and make a statement win and get ready for the playoffs," Pro Bowl linebacker Micah Parsons said. “We have to go make a statement that we are the better team, the more dominant and aggressive team. We just have to prove that.”

The Cowboys (11-5) have proved to be among the NFL's elite even after some recent struggles. They beat Detroit and got a surprise loss by Philadelphia to Arizona last weekend to put them in line for the division crown and potentially two playoff games at home, where they've got a 16-game winning streak and are 8-0 this season.

There's no place like home, but the road has not been so kind: The Cowboys are 3-5, though four of the losses have come to teams either in the playoffs or close to clinching. One more road victory clinches a third consecutive 12-5 record.

“Winning on the road is something that, it’s just great for your football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Road wins give you a different kind of confidence that you bring home.”

Long eliminated from contention, the Commanders (4-12) have only draft position to play for, but players and coaches don't care about that. Receiver Jahan Dotson called it “just a distraction.”

Playing spoiler against a division rival? Now that'll do in what's likely coach Ron Rivera's final game in charge for Washington.

“(Players are) very much aware of it,” Rivera said. "I think they understand that this is one of the top rivalries in the NFL, and I don’t think it necessarily matters what your record is. This is really about the opportunity to play against a team like this.”

The Cowboys are 13 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.


The Cowboys have struggled in the running game most of the season in Tony Pollard’s debut as the lead back after the offseason release of two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott in a cost-cutting move.

Dallas was probably at its worst against Detroit, averaging a season-low 2.9 yards a carry. Pollard was dropped for a loss five times and stopped for no gain on three other attempts.

McCarthy said the Cowboys simply weren’t very good when the Lions brought extra rushers, which is known as empty pressure.

“We’re a little bit of an ‘empty pressure’ magnet right now,” McCarthy said. “You look at the numbers the last couple of weeks, the way people have attacked us. It’s good for us. It’s made us really knuckle down and review some things and just apply more reps in that area.”


It has been clear for quite some time that the Commanders' new ownership will move on from Rivera after this season, his fourth in charge, ready to make wholesale changes after buying the team for $6.05 billion.

“There was a long period of time that I did a lot of managing, and in the last four and a half, five weeks, it’s really been about coaching,” Rivera said this week. “Keeping focused on that has been something that I’ve tried to do and just stay where I am: that old expression, ‘Be where your feet are.’”

The veteran coach brought in to stabilize the organization after tumultuous times has also navigated it through many off the field, though there's little arguing the results on it have been mediocre, at best. He's proud of the culture he has instilled, but the next front office will have its work cut out for it rebuilding the roster.


Parsons, who just became the third Dallas defender to make the Pro Bowl each of his first three seasons, has half a sack in the past three games. The 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year has never gone four games without at least one full sack.

Parsons is tied for eighth in the NFL with 13 sacks, the same number he had as a rookie. He had 13 1/2 last season.

“I literally just had this conversation with the guys today,” Parsons said of being stuck on 13. “At this point, it’s any means necessary. I might jump offsides twice this week. Something has to change. It’s coming. It’s coming for sure.”


Sam Howell is set to make an 18th consecutive start at quarterback for the Commanders dating to last year's season finale against the Cowboys, which he won when making his NFL debut. Howell, who leads the NFL with 19 interceptions and has been sacked a league-high 61 times, is the first Washington QB to start every game of a season since Kirk Cousins in 2017.

With a new regime coming in, it's a final chance for Howell to show what he can do.

“I just want to play good football, man, and end this year on a good note," Howell said. "I don’t think I’ve played my best the past few weeks, and I just want to make sure I go out there and show on Sunday the type of player I really can be in this league.”


AP Pro Football Writer Schuyler Dixon in Frisco, Texas, contributed to this report.



Recommended Videos