This feels a lot like last year at around this time, doesn't it? The Dallas Cowboys, ravaged on defense by injuries and facing December elimination games as well as a possible do-or-die intra-divisional finale against Philadelphia.
But before Dallas can even get to that Week 17 elimination game, it might have to get past another division rival. And you'll recall that the Washington Redskins were the team that took advantage of all of those Cowboys injuries in an all-or-nothing Week 17 meeting last season.
In Washington Sunday, the 'Boys will look eerily similar to the team we saw in that finale. The worn-down defense just can't compete right now, and the offense is turnover-prone and lacking consistency.
The difference is that the 'Skins aren't the team they were then, starting at the quarterback position, where Robert Griffin III has been shut down in favor of Kirk Cousins.
I guess what we're saying is, nobody knows what to expect Sunday afternoon at FedExField.
Here's our final preview of the matchup from Dallas' perspective, along with a prediction...
What Dallas must do to win, offensive edition
Find that evasive balance. Tony Romo should have plenty of opportunities to pick apart a weak secondary, but Romo and the offense can't truly excel without the balance that they lacked in the second half against Green Bay. Washington's run defense has been very good this year, giving up 4.0 yards per rush, but DeMarco Murray leads all NFL full-time backs with 5.5 yards per carry. He's become the most reliable offensive player on this team, so Dallas can't afford to ignore him.
|1. John Abraham||Cardinals||8.5|
|2. Justin Tuck||Giants||7.5|
|3. Brian Orakpo||Redskins||7.0|
|3. Olivier Vernon||Dolphins||7.0|
|5. Gerald McCoy||Bucs||6.0|
Pro Football Reference
What Dallas must do to win, defensive edition
Stop Alfred Morris. Make Washington one-dimensional, or at least put extra pressure on Cousins, and the second-year quarterback is bound to make some of his trademark mistakes. Remember: Morris had a 200-yard day against this beaten-up D last year in December. This year, they're without Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee and Justin Durant, while Bruce Carter and DeMarcus Ware are far from 100 percent. Spare parts will have to find a way to limit Morris.
Five most important non-quarterbacks for the Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher: With all of those injuries on D and Morris coming at them, the Cowboys' best two defensive players have to play lights-out.
DeMarco Murray: Gotta get that running game going.
Tyron Smith: Brian Orakpo has been on a bit of a tear, and he almost always rushes against the opponent's left tackle.
Cole Beasley: Dez Bryant really struggles against the Redskins, Miles Austin is a lost cause and Terrance Williams isn't healthy. A lot could fall on Beasley, who is a key Romo safety valve in the slot.
Who will win Sunday?
Injury analysis, Cowboys edition
It might be easier listing the players who have been practicing fully.
In the linebacking corps, Lee is out, Durant is on injured reserve, Ernie Sims has been out of practice and Carter has been limited.
At defensive line, Ratliff and Spencer are long gone, while Ware, Jason Hatcher and Jarius Wynn have been limited.
In the secondary, Morris Claiborne remains out while Brandon Carr missed practice time this week with an illness.
How can you possibly stop anyone when you're in that kind of shape? George Selvie is banged up, too, but they'll need Selvie, Ware and Hatcher to have monster performances Sunday.
Injury analysis, Redskins edition
Griffin and tight end Jordan Reed have been shut down for the season, and left tackle Trent Williams has missed practice time this week due to a knee injury. Without Williams, Cousins would be in huge trouble, especially with Reed already out.
The defense, though, is very healthy.
B/R NFC East blog prediction: Redskins 28, Cowboys 27
The Cowboys have lost to backup quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks, and Cousins and Morris have the ability to shock a depleted and shaken Dallas defense, especially in D.C. The Redskins battled in Atlanta and should give Dallas their best shot. I'll give them a last-moment victory, potentially spoiling Dallas' season.