Keys to victory: How Cowboys can end regular season on high note in Week 18

The Dallas Cowboys finish the regular season with a showdown against the Washington Commanders as they try to backdoor their way to an NFC East title.

DALLAS — The final regular season game for the Dallas Cowboys arrives on Sunday.

With a playoff spot already locked in, the Cowboys won’t have to worry about their season being on the line as they take on the Washington Commanders at FedExField.

However, as the current fifth seed in the NFC, much can change with a win and a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles. That scenario would give the Cowboys the NFC East title for a second consecutive year and provide a better seed. Needless to say, Dallas has something to fight for on Sunday.

A win, coupled with losses by the Eagles and San Francisco 49ers would give Jerry Jones’ team the top seed in the conference and a bye week to boot. These things aren’t likely to happen, but then again, two weeks ago this scenario was highly unlikely as well.

But before considering playoff seeding, the Cowboys have an opportunity to beat their longtime rivals in Washington to end the season on a three-game winning streak. Here are the keys to beating the Commanders to potentially make things interesting in the NFC:

Take to the skies

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott missed the first game between the teams in early October, but he watched his backup Cooper Rush throw for two scores in an efficient outing. Prescott will go up against a Commander’s defense that allows under 200 passing yards per game, but they do give up touchdowns through the air.

Washington has given up 25 passing scores and has allowed a passer rating of almost 94 this season, both of which are in the bottom 10 in the league. Washington doesn’t allow quarterbacks to throw for a lot of yards, but quarterbacks have no problem being efficient when they do throw the ball.

Prescott’s completion percentage over the last three games has surpassed 70% and he’s thrown for eight touchdowns in the same time span, so the Cowboys should be able to move the ball with the passing game.

Make rookie QB sweat

The Commanders are no longer in contention for the postseason, so they’ll be starting a rookie at quarterback in Week 18. Sunday will mark fifth round pick Sam Howell’s first NFL start, and his first pro football regular season action, so the defense for the Cowboys needs to make life difficult for the rookie out of North Carolina.

Howell does have some skills, and he was impressive in the preseason for the Commanders, but like most rookie quarterbacks, he’ll have to adjust to regular season speed in the NFL. Every young quarterback goes through some growing pains early and Dallas’ defense must take advantage of Howell’s inexperience. Dan Quinn should send pressure at Howell, force those rookie mistakes, and hopefully force turnovers to give the Cowboys an edge.

Keep Dak upright

The Commanders aren’t a top tier defense, but they do put pressure on the quarterback. Ranking 10th in the NFL in sacks, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s group is coming on with eight sacks in the last two weeks.

Getting defensive end Chase Young back has been a bonus late in the year, but the Commanders also have three defenders with 7.5 sacks or more. Defensive tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have combined for 19 sacks, while fellow first round pick, defensive end Montez Sweat has chipped in with eight.

Washington sports one of the better defensive fronts that the Cowboys will play and with so much riding on this game, and the postseason approaching, Prescott needs to avoid getting dinged up. Dallas needs to make sure Prescott doesn’t get pressured and comes out of the game healthy heading into the playoffs.

Do you think the Cowboys will close out their regular season slate in style on Sunday? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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