The top matchup of the week features the Dallas Cowboys (11-4) and Arizona Cardinals (10-5) will clash at AT&T Stadium on Sunday. While the Cowboys are still in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Cardinals, on the other hand, are looking for help in capturing the NFC West title.
Neither can afford a loss if they hope to keep pace within the conference and for Arizona their division. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury knows how important this game is to his team, who has dropped three straight games after starting the season 10-2. This game is so crucial to Arizona that Kingsbury went out of his way in praising the Cowboys roster and coaching staff (minus Mike McCarthy), seemingly attempting to capture his team’s attention.
So, emphasizing the magnitude of this game is far from an overstatement. The loser of this game might as well pack it up now and get ready for a wildcard exit in the playoffs. OK, maybe that is a bit much, but this game is huge to say the least.
Here’s a couple of different scenarios that this game could spawn:
If the Cowboys can take care of the Cardinals in Week 17, their focus would shift to rooting for the Minnesota Vikings to beat the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys would much rather play the Packers at home in late January instead of Lambeau Field. Should this scenario play out, it would catapult Dallas past Green Bay and right into the driver’s seat for home-field advantage and the only first-round bye on the NFC side of the playoff bracket.
At this point, the best Arizona can hope for is winning the NFC West, but they’ll need help from the Rams to do that. If the Cardinals handle business and win their two remaining games, they’d need the Rams to lose one of their final two, and the NFC West crown goes to Arizona. The Cards could also get lucky if the Rams drop both of their games against the Ravens and 49ers, then Arizona only needs to beat the Cowboys or the Seahawks. If I were Kingsbury and the Cards, I wouldn’t bet on that last scenario unfolding too favorably for them.
The best outcome for the entire conference would probably be Dallas somehow overtaking Green Bay in the No. 1 slot. Aside from Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, no other team really wants to travel to Wisconsin in the divisional round or NFC championship game. And I’m sure the Bucs would prefer not to travel that far north in January but knowing they’ve done it and prevailed already should give them the confidence that they can do it again if they must.
For these reasons, this Cowboys-Cardinals Week 17 showdown has the potential to be one hellacious game with so much on the line. I think we’re going to find out who’s for real and which team has been masquerading all year as a contender.