The 2022-23 season finale has arrived already, with the Dallas Cowboys set to face the Washington Commanders in pursuit of a thirteenth win on Sunday before preparing to enter the playoffs.
Washington has nothing to gain in the game but to play spoiler to the Cowboys’ chances of jumping as high as the one seed by notching one final win.
Dallas enters the game on a hot streak and will likely have a renewed weapon on offense with the return of running back Tony Pollard to the lineup. Pollard’s absence was noticeable in last week’s triumph over the Titans.
Malik Davis filled in for Pollard and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry on 10 attempts. In addition to his role as “the Sword” in the run game, Pollard is also an instrumental part of the passing game, and his return marks a significant boost in talent for quarterback Dak Prescott to target.
Following the Thursday Night Football win, there was speculation as to whether the Cowboys would go full-steam against the Commanders. But the conversation quickly ended when the Eagles lost to the New Orleans Saints last week, opening the door for Dallas to snag the NFC East title.
By Monday, head coach Mike McCarthy had confirmed that the regular starters would take the field in Week 18.
The Commanders are expected to start rookie quarterback Sam Howell after Carson Wentz, and Taylor Heinicke both flamed out during the regular season. Washington was officially eliminated in Week 17 from the postseason after a loss to the Cleveland Browns and a win by the Green Bay Packers.
A major contributing factor in the current 7-8-1 season has been the erratic play of the two Commanders quarterbacks.
Howell and an offensive line that gave up 42 sacks this season will be tasked with stopping a relentless Cowboys defense that has not been generating tremendous numbers in recent weeks and gave up 34 points in back-to-back games in December.
Linebacker Micah Parsons has recorded 13 sacks but just one in the last five games. The Cowboys ruled fellow linebacker Leighton Vander Esch out for Week 18, putting additional pressure on Parsons and the linebacker corps as they aim to force Washington into a one-dimensional contest.
Pollard’s return comes at an excellent time for the Dallas offense, which has been humming despite committing more turnovers than usual. Prescott has particularly struggled in recent weeks, though at least seven of his 14 interceptions this season have resulted from receivers not catching the ball or deflections.
The addition of T.Y. Hilton has brought a much-needed boost on third downs and has freed CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup up to make plays.
The Cowboys are playing this game to win while Washington is gathering up the pieces and looking for the start of the next season.
ESPN.com gives the Cowboys an 86% chance at victory. The game is being played at FedEx Field in Maryland, just outside the D.C. region. Kick-off is set for 3:25 p.m. CST.