The Cowboys can’t improve their playoff standing no matter what happens Sunday against the New York Giants.
That, however, doesn’t mean the game is meaningless. And that’s why you shouldn’t expect to see a lineup full of backups Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Guard Zack Martin, hampered by a sprained knee much of the year, already has been ruled out. He’s the only one.
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Now, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see left tackle Tyron Smith, bothered by neck and elbow issues the last month, sit out with Cam Fleming replacing him. The same goes for Ezekiel Elliott having a limited role because it would be a disaster, if he was hurt.
The same goes for Dak Prescott, who has also been adamant about playing.
Maybe, the Cowboys limit DeMarcus Lawrence to pass-rushing situations, while giving slot cornerback Anthony Brown another week to get his back better, but don’t expect a makeshift lineup.
After all, there are only 45 players on the game-day roster. Somebody has to play.
“This idea that you have a whole other team, we’re not going to play the starters, we’re going to play the backups, logistically, you can’t do that,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The (roster) numbers don’t allow you to do that. We’re going to play our team.”
Besides, we’ve all seen the Cowboys’ offense - raggedy at best - in the last two games score two offensive touchdowns in 17 possessions, while averaging 13.5 points and 262 yards a game.
During their five-game winning streak, the Cowboys averaged 24.4 points and 404.2 yards per game.
Does the offense look playoff ready? Absolutely not.They could use the work.
Elliott wants to play, so he can feel good about the offense and the team before the Cowboys embark upon what they hope will be a lengthy playoff journey - not the one-and-done result of 2016.
“I'm playing," he said matter-of-factly.
Plus, the rushing title is important to him. He’d like to become just the fourth player to win two rushing titles in his first three NFL seasons. Doing so would also enable Elliott to join Emmitt Smith as the only player in franchise history to win a rushing title.
Elliott, who has 1,434 yards, leads Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams by 183 yards. Gurley didn’t play last week because of a sprained knee, and he might not play Sunday. The Giants’ Saquon Barkley trails Elliott by 202 yards.
“I’m pretty close to locking it up,” Elliot said of the rushing title. “It’s definitely a great achievement, and I’ve just got to thank all those other guys on offense who helped make that possible.
“They drafted me the No. 4 overall pick. I’d like to think that I’ve fulfilled all the expectations that they’ve expected of me. I’m just glad to be in this situation, glad to be on this team and glad to be with these guys.”
Amari Cooper had a much simpler reason for wanting to play against the Giants - and it had nothing to do with him having just eight catches for 52 yards in the last two games.
“I love football,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I want to play?”
The Cowboys have won two playoffs since 1997: They beat Philadelphia, 34-14, in 2009 and Detroit, 24-20, in 2014.
In 2016, their last playoff appearance, Green Bay beat Dallas 34-31 on a 51-yard field goal as time expired.
Green Bay started fast, grabbing a 21-3 lead; Dallas didn’t.
Owner Jerry Jones wants to do everything possible, even if it means using key players in a game that won’t affect their playoff position, to ensure Dallas plays its best game in the playoffs.
“Our experience has been that we have played smart, if you will, in a game that has no standing implications and I don’t think we played well,” Jones said on his weekly radio show on KRLD-FM. “Now, we’ve avoided the injury in the past by playing that way, but I don’t know that we’ve entered the playoffs in our best shape.
“I don’t think anybody wants to leave the taste in our mouth that we finished up with Sunday. I think we’ve got a better chance to continue with some of the things we worked on and are working on to get this offense in better shape.”