Cowboys have chance to win NFC East, rekindle rivalry with Redskins.

by Dustin Dietz | Posted on Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Image: Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images

By: Dustin Dietz

For the second consecutive season, and for the third time in five years, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in an elimination game in Week 17 against a NFC East rival for the right to advance to the playoffs.

In the final game of the 2008 regular season, the team many experts felt were the favorites to win the Super Bowl before the regular season began was humiliated by the Philadelphia Eagles 44-6 at Lincoln Financial Field and would miss the playoffs entirely. After the game, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said the now infamous words, “If this (the 44-6 loss) is the worst thing that ever happened to me, I’ll have led a pretty good life.”

In Week 17 of last season, the Cowboys traveled to MetLife Stadium to play the New York football Giants for the NFC East championship. Dallas would fall behind quickly 21-0, and lose the game going away 31-14. The Giants would eventually win the Super Bowl five weeks later in Indianapolis, and the rest is history.

This year, the Cowboys again have the opportunity to win the NFC East in Week 17, but this time they travel to FedEx Field in our nation’s capital to renew their rivalry with the scorching hot Washington Redskins, winners of 6 straight games. The Skins last loss came all the way back in Week 9 when they suffered a humiliating defeat against Carolina at home 21-13. Dallas and Washington last met on Thanksgiving Day, a 38-31 Redskins win.

The Redskins are led by former Baylor Bear and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. RG3 has rejuvenated football life in the DC area as he has thrown 20 touchdowns compared to only 5 interceptions, and has rushed for a NFL rookie quarterback record 752 yards.

Washington took a colossal risk this past March when they traded four draft picks, including three first round selections, to trade up from 6th to 2nd in the NFL draft to select Griffin III. However, Griffin III’s spectacular play has made the Redskins roll of the dice appear to be well worth the gamble.

Griffin III is not the only dynamic rookie on the offensive side of the ball for Washington as running back Alfred Morris has rushed for a Redskins rookie record 1,413 yards. The 2012 6th round draft choice needs only 104 yards rushing Sunday night to break the team rushing record set by Clinton Portis back in 2005.

As a team, Washington averages 5.1 yards per carry and leads the NFL in total rushing yards. If the Cowboys want to have a chance Sunday night, they must stop the Redskins running game with their injury depleted defensive unit which will be without numerous starters including Jay Ratliff.

The Redskins 5th ranked offense might be excelling, but their defense is not exactly what one would consider a shut-down unit as it is ranked 28th overall in the league. Washington’s pass defense is third worst in the NFL and has allowed the fourth most touchdown passes. The Skins do not consistently put pressure on opposing QB’s and are in the bottom ten of the league in sacks. So, Tony Romo should have plenty of opportunities to shred the Redskins secondary by throwing darts to wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Romo will once again have the chance to shed the label of being a quarterback who cannot win pivotal games.

The Redskins and Cowboys have been rivals for many years, but have not played many important games recently. In fact, the NFL Network put together a list of the top 10 rivalries in the NFL today, and the Redskins-Cowboys did not even make the list.

The rivalry was at a peak in the 1970’s when characters such as George Allen, Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Clint Longley, Roger Staubach, and Tom Landry were involved. However, due to both franchise’s recent lackluster play, the rivalry between the two teams has drifted into obscurity. Quite frankly, the aura surrounding Cowboys-Redskins just does not feel quite the same as it did 20 years ago.

Dallas leads the overall series 62-41-2, but has never won a regular season finale played in Washington as they are 0-4 all-time. The Cowboys have played the Redskins in two playoff games in DC and have lost both of those games as well. In the six games, Dallas lost all six by double digits. What does this mean? Well, the Cowboys could be due to win a meaningful in Washington, or they could be headed for another blowout loss if past history is indicative of what will occur Sunday night.

While the Cowboys-Redskins might not quite mean what it used to, the teams are still fighting for the right to win the NFC East and to have the prerogative of hosting a playoff game the following week. If Dallas is fortunate enough to come away victorious Sunday night, they would finish the season 9-7, the exact same record the Super Bowl winning Giants finished in 2011. If the Cowboys lose, the franchise will have wasted another year of Tony Romo’s prime and will be forced to ponder what might have been during a long off season.

Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18

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