The Dallas Cowboys added another NFC East championship, and they’ve locked up the top-seed in the NFC for the first time since 2007.
The Cowboys are free to celebrate after the New York Giants fell to the Philadelphia Eagles 24-19 on Thursday night. The Giants’ loss assures the Cowboys of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Dallas could have locked up homefield and the division itself with a win in either of its final two games. The Giants were the only team in the NFC who had a chance to overtake the Cowboys, but they needed to win their final two games and have the Cowboys lose both of theirs.
For the Cowboys, it’s their second division title in three years and the 22nd in the team’s history. It’s also the sixth time they will have the top-seed going into the playoffs.
The Cowboys have won the Super Bowl three of the five times that they were the top seed (1977, 1993 and 1995). They were also the top seed in 1979 and 2007 – each one-and-done playoff years.
Most of the players seemed nonchalant after practice Thursday when asked about the idea of clinching the division and home-field.
“I don’t think we’re worried about that at all,” said right guard Zack Martin, a three-time Pro Bowler. “I think we’re really worried about Detroit and us taking care of business against Detroit. [Clinching] hasn’t been spoken about one time.”
Some, though, had a different take. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott said he had no problem rooting for the rival Eagles to win.
“Whatever gives us the best [outcome], that’s who we root for,” Elliott said. “It will be great just knowing that we got that locked in, that home-field advantage, that’s what we want. We’ve got to wait and see.”
Now the inevitable discussion shifts to the rest vs. rust debate down the stretch. The Cowboys have to balance the fine line between keeping healthy starters fresh and not exposing them to unnecessary injuries the final two weeks in games that won’t affect their playoff status.
Coach Jason Garrett wouldn’t speculate on how he would approach it, saying he was “focused on today’s practice.”
But history points to Garrett likely playing his healthy starters.
The Cowboys had their playoff spot and seed locked in going into the regular-season finale in 2014, and quarterback Tony Romo played 57 of 63 snaps against the Washington Redskins. Running back DeMarco Murray, playing with an injury, had 22 carries in 31 snaps.
Garrett refused to say what the Cowboys would do, even when pressed about having rookies such as Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott in such high-profile positions.
“We’re not really focused on that,” Garrett said. “We’re focused on today’s practice.”
Elliott also didn’t have much to add, saying it wasn’t his decision in the end. Even with Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record within reach these final two games, Elliott would understand if he wasn’t given an opportunity to break it.
“There is a shot to get that rookie rushing record, but it’s not worth risking what we have the opportunity to do as a team,” Elliott said. “And I wouldn’t want to risk getting it for something we have the opportunity to go and play for a Super Bowl. It’s going to be team-oriented.
“Whatever they think is best for our team, then that’s what’s going to happen.”