Week 17 of the NFL regular season has finally arrived. Included in the final slate of games is an NFC East matchup between Dallas and Washington. The Cowboys (7-8) are battling the Eagles (8-7) for the division title, needing a win over the Redskins (3-12) and for Philadelphia to lose to the Giants (4-11) to get into the playoffs.
Dallas is just 4-3 at home this season but does already have a victory over Washington, beating the Redskins 31-21 on the road back in Week 2. Much has changed since then, however. Regardless of the outcome, changes are definitely coming for the Redskins this offseason, and the same is probably true for the Cowboys too.
Washington at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 29 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Cowboys -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Case Keenum back in the starting lineup
Rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins has proven that he’s the future at the quarterback position for the Redskins. But unfortunately for him and the team, he won’t be suiting up against the Cowboys on Sunday due to an ankle injury.
That means that Keenum, who started seven of the team’s first eight games this season, is back under center.
The 31-year-old journeyman replaced Haskins in last week’s game against the Giants and proceeded to complete 72.7 percent of his passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. He also added another touchdown on the ground as Washington orchestrated a 14-point rally in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. New York scored on the opening possession of overtime to win, 41-35.
Keenum will make his first start since Week 8. He’s 1-6 as the starter this season with 11 total touchdowns (10 passing) and seven turnovers (4 INTs). He threw for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers in the first meeting back in Week 2.
2. The status of Dak Prescott’s shoulder
The up-and-down play – mostly down – of the Dallas offense was on full display against the Eagles last week. The reason for the struggles, which resulted in only nine points, were a combination of dropped passes from receivers or inaccurate passes from Prescott.
On the day, he threw for 265 yards. The problem is that he only completed 56.8 percent of his passes and didn’t toss a single touchdown.
The team continues to reiterate that Prescott’s shoulder injury isn’t serious, but one has to wonder how much it combined with the lack of practice is contributing to his declining play. Either way, this could be the last time Prescott suits up for the Cowboys, as his contract situation remains unresolved.
3. Can Dallas make it back to the playoffs?
One of the determining factors as to whether or not Sunday will be Prescott’s final game as the quarterback of the Cowboys is the team’s playoff status.
In order to solidify that playoff spot, the team will first need to beat the Redskins on Sunday – a bigger ask than most realize. The other crucial factor would be the Eagles losing to the Giants with both games taking place at the same time (4:25 p.m. ET).
Fortunately for Dallas fans, the Giants will get that game at home, and they’re currently on a two-game winning streak – although, those wins came against the Dolphins and Redskins.
Even with a win, Prescott isn’t the only Cowboy facing an uncertain future. Change is probably coming in Big D. An 8-8 showing is not what owner Jerry Jones had in mind entering this season.
The game between the Cowboys and the Redskins is normally a good watch because the two teams don’t really like each other. But Sunday marks a chance for Washington to play spoiler for Dallas’ playoff hopes.
There are a lot of people predicting this to be a closer game – with a potential chance for an upset – but the only thing standing in the Cowboys’ way is the team and head coach Jason Garrett.
As long as Dallas keeps its top playmakers on the field in crucial situations on Sunday, the home team should be able to walk away with a victory against Washington to secure a .500 finish.
Prediction: Cowboys 30, Redskins 17
— Written by Clint Lamb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ClintRLamb.