With the fate of the NFC East at stake, the Washington Redskins will play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
NBC flexed the critical showdown to its prime-time slot, and did so for obvious reasons. Much like Rams-Seahawks a couple years ago, this game would decide a playoff spot even if it took place in a vacuum. That is, the winner of this game takes the NFC East regardless of what happens in the other Week 17 games.
If Seattle isn't the hottest team in football, that honor would likely go to Washington (9-6). Even with Robert Griffin's dubious knee, the Skins have won six consecutive games. That stands in stark contrast to the Cowboys (8-7), who damaged their playoff hopes by losing, at home, to the New Orleans Saints last weekend.
But the past is beside the point. This game does exist inside a relative vacuum, and the winner will host Seattle next weekend regardless.
Let's take a look at what to expect:
When: Sunday, Dec. 30th, 8:20 p.m. ET
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, MD
Live Stream: SNF All Access
Spread: Washington -3 (via VegasInsider.com—LVH)
Giving Washington three points at home reveals that Vegas values these two teams evenly. I think that's a mistake.
Washington beat the Cowboys on a similarly big national stage, Thanksgiving Day, earlier this season. They did so with relative ease, too. The final score was 38-31, but that was hardly indicative of how lopsided the affair truly was.
In Football Outsiders' team efficiency rankings, the Redskins place eighth to Dallas' 15th. That puts Washington squarely in the league's top fourth, with the Cowboys barely in the league's top half.
So I disagree with Vegas on this one. These teams are not equal.
Give the points, take the Skins, reap the rewards.
Over/Under: 48.5 (via VegasInsider.com—LVH)
This one is similarly cut and dried. Why? Here are five pivotal facts:
(1) The teams' first meeting featured 896 yards and 69 points.
(2) The Redskins have gone "over" in four of their past five games.
(3) The Cowboys have also gone "over" in four of their past five games.
(4) According to Football Outsiders, both teams feature top-10 offenses.
(5) According to Football Outsiders, neither team features a top-16 defense.
Take the over with confidence.
Dallas Cowboys Injury Report (via USA Today)
|LB Victor Butler||Groin||Questionable|
|DE Jason Hatcher||Thigh||Questionable|
|LB Alex Albright||Leg||Questionable|
|LB Demarcus Ware||Shoulder||Questionable|
Washington Redskins Injury Report (via USA Today)
|S DeJon Gomes||Knee||Questionable|
|T Tyler Polumbus||Concussion||Questionable|
Fantasy Big Plays
Dallas Cowboys: TE Jason Witten
The newly-minted single-season receptions leader among tight ends could add to his impressive season on Sunday.
According to Football Outsiders, Washington ranks 26th in the league against opposing tight ends. That was fairly evident on Thanksgiving, when Witten hauled in nine catches for 74 yards.
More importantly, in the teams' last meeting, Tony Romo targeted Witten 15 times. He hasn't seen double-digit targets since that game, which means he could be due.
He won't see the preposterous 23 targets he saw against the Giants this season, but Witten should have 10-12 balls thrown his way. That makes him a safe bet for production.
Washington Redskins: QB Robert Griffin III
Griffin was productive against the Eagles but lacked the spark we were hoping to see post-injury. But an adrenaline-fueled game against Dallas could be enough to bring his mojo back.
The Rookie of the Year frontrunner put on a show against Dallas on Thanksgiving, finishing with 304 yards and four touchdowns through the air. It was only the second time he surpassed 300 yards or four touchdowns, and the only time he did so together.
Expect his mobility to come back when needed against Dallas' leaky defense—one that ranks 25th in the league against the pass.
Key to Victory
As alluded to earlier, the three-point spread means that Vegas regards Washington and Dallas as equals. Articulated more frankly, the line would be even on a neutral field. Articulated painfully frankly, Washington's crowd is expected to give them a three-point advantage.
They better be worth it.
If the Redskins faithful, desperate for a playoff team after years of futility, can fuel their team to a powerful first quarter, this one could be over quick. If the game stays close, they need to maintain their influence for 60 minutes, just as they did against the Giants earlier this season.
But if the fans aren't powerful enough to affect the game, or if the Skins aren't able to duly take advantage of their crowd, Dallas might be able to sneak away with a playoff berth.
Washington's merit as a legitimate sports town have been a contentious topic this year. Michael Wilbon caught predictable flak for saying D.C. is "not even close to New York, Philly, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, LA. It’s last...."
But on Sunday night, they will establish their bona fides by lifting Robert Griffin and Co. to a playoff-clinching victory. And they'll do so in a big way.
Predicted Score: Washington 34, Dallas 21