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There’s certainly an advantage to having home field, but when weighed against the injury risk of playing starters it doesn’t make the most sense, not for the 2021 Dallas Cowboys.
The drama was essentially sucked out of Week 18 with the way Week 17 finished for multiple title contenders. The NFC has five teams who realistically have a shot of winning the whole shebang, and another set of teams capable of upsetting one or multiple of those said five contenders. With seven playoff spots and only one team able to earn a bye week, fans should prepare for anything and Week 17 was no doubt another example of such.
Before the Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals took the field to battle each other, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were becoming embroiled in a spectacle that just-so-happened to take place while the lowly New York Jets were thumping them before they remembered their draft position was on the line and folding like a cheap suit. The Los Angeles Rams were down nine points to a Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens before pulling out that late victory. Dallas woke up a little too late but almost pulled off a mammoth comeback against the Cardinals in the late afternoon slot. Finally, the Green Bay Packers finished off the hopes of all three teams by winning comfortably on Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
While the No. 1 seed is the only one secured in the conference, the hodge podge of possibilities brings up an important question. Does it really matter where the Cowboys end up in the seeding?
Yes, the higher up Dallas finishes the more likely they are to be in line to host multiple playoff games. The No. 2 seed will only go on the road if they end up facing the No. 1 seed in the NFC Championship; there’s certainly a plus to earning that. But as far as matchups go? There’s no reason to believe being ranked No. 2 or No. 3 gives a team a decided advantage over the No. 4 seed.
Certainly, the loser of the NFC West race is a formidable opponent. Whether that be the Rams or the Cardinals, they will play that game tough. Are either really that much tougher than a San Francisco 49ers team with the likes of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa? The way the New Orleans Saints have been playing defense much of the year and especially the last five weeks, they present unique challenges as well.
While the Philadelphia Eagles seem to be overmatched in this group of potential wild-card teams, there’s always something scary about facing a team three times in one season.
Is Dallas even that much better a team when they play at home? They score more (averaging 36.4 at home and 23.5 on the road) but is that more of a function of whom they played on the road (Tampa Bay, Chargers, Patriots, Saints, Minnesota)? Overall Dallas has a better road record than home record this season, this team can travel.
As the week has gone on, this position has gained even more clarity.
Dallas will be playing without their left tackle as Tyron Smith has been placed on the COVID list. Rookie of the year-to-be Micah Parsons is out with COVID and Trevon Diggs is dealing with a non-COVID illness while his counterpart Anthony Brown is on the COVID list as well.
So QB1, who has seemed a bit skiddish since his offensive line fell off mideeason, has a blind side now protected by Terence Steele and Ty Nsekhe, in a game that won’t move the meter as far as playoff matchups or advantages?
That doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk. Rest Dak Prescott. Rest Ezekiel Elliott. Rest Tony Pollard. Rest most any of the crucial players who could either use the time off or are too valuable to risk losing like the club just did with WR Michael Gallup in a game that actually mattered at the time.