A month ago, if the Dallas Cowboys had told you that they would be playing to clinch the NFC East title against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium at noon Sunday, you would’ve walked away laughing.
But that’s where they are after winning five consecutive games after a 3-5 start. The Colts, however, could be the Cowboys toughest opponent yet in their win streak. Only the Saints were playing better at the time they met Dallas. The Colts (7-6) are clinging to playoff hopes, which they’ve missed the previous three seasons.
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1. Amari’s encore
How do you follow three touchdowns and 217 yards receiving? For Amari Cooper, who is coming off a career-game against the Eagles, gaudy numbers aren’t necessary for the Cowboys’ offense to move the ball effectively. But Cooper’s ability to quickly assimilate has been a boon for the offense and the biggest single reason the Cowboys are sitting in their position. Since he was acquired via draft in Week 9, Cooper leads NFL receivers with 642 yards and six touchdowns. He also leads the league in first down receptions on third downs with 11 since the trade.
2. Zeke’s wear and tear
Ezekiel Elliott touched the ball 40 times (28 rushes, 12 receptions) last week and missed Wednesday’s practice to help him recover. Elliott is averaging 25.6 touches a game in 2018. At 333 total touches, he is likely to surpass the 354 total touches he had as a rookie in 2016 against the Colts. The return of Tavon Austin, who has been out since Oct. 14 with a groin injury, could help take some of the offensive load off of Elliott. Austin has seven catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns and six rushes for 55 yards in six games.
3. Zack Martin’s streak
All-Pro right guard Zack Martin won’t play Sunday, which will be the first game he’s missed in his career. Martin left last week’s game after aggravating his MCL sprain in his left knee. Martin, who has been a perennial All-Pro player in each of his four seasons in the league, has started all 77 games in his career. Rookie Connor Williams replaced Martin at right guard. Williams started at left guard this season before an injury sidelined him.
4. Andrew Luck’s return
After missing the entire 2017 season as surgery to repair a torn labrum, Andrew Luck is back and having one of his best seasons. Only Patrick Mahomes has thrown more touchdown passes than Luck’s 34. He is sixth in passing yards (3,759) but has thrown 13 interceptions. Despite being a pocket passer, he’s only been sacked 16 times. His biggest targets are T.Y. Hilton (62 for 986 yards and six touchdowns) and tight end Eric Ebron (58 for 654 yards and 12 touchdowns). Luck will spread it around, too. Five other receivers, including running back Nyheim Hines have at least 22 receptions.
5. General Lee
Linebacker Sean Lee is expected to be activated after missing the past five games with a hamstring injury. If he’s available, he’ll be used in a limited fashion as he’s eased back into game speed. Lee says that’s fine with him. And when he does get back out on the field, he won’t hold back.
“Any role for me I’m excited for,” said Lee, who won’t be “If you don’t go out and play full speed and hard you’re not going to be any good and you’re not going to play anyway. So you might as well go out there and let it rip. It might rip. That’s part of the deal.”