Five Reasons to Watch Sunday’s “Meaningless” Game

This has been a pretty blasé week for Cowboys fans. Home-field advantage is sewn up and the Cowboys can no longer effect the seeding of their NFC rivals. A cursory analysis of the week 17 schedule would cause most people to think of this as a pointless game.

Au contraire! I’m here to give you five reasons why Sunday’s “meaningless” game with the Eagles matters.

  •  Ezekiel Elliott’s Pursuit of NFL History

There are some pretty significant thresholds Ezekiel Elliott must meet in order to match or surpass Eric Dickerson’s most well-known rookie rushing records. Elliott needs 177 rushing yards to pass Dickerson’s yardage mark and three rushing touchdowns to tie his rushing touchdown record. It’s unlikely that Elliott will get his normal workload, so it’s difficult to see him getting those numbers, but it’s at least within the realm of possibility. There are two much more attainable marks for Elliott on Sunday, however.

With 44 more rushing yards, Elliott will finish with the second-most rushing yards by a rookie, surpassing George Rogers’ 1674 yards for the Saints in 1981. Also, if Elliott can reach 80 yards rushing, it would be his 15th straight game. That would tie Marcus Allen for the most consecutive games of at least 80 yards rushing, and would tie Maurice Jones-Drew for the most such games in a single season.

  • Most Wins in Franchise History

The Cowboys have the highest winning percentage in NFL history (.574) and they’ve reached the 10-win threshold an astounding 49% of the time in the franchise’s 57-year existence.

Even with that rich tradition of winning, the Cowboys have never won more than 13 regular season games. With a victory on Sunday, Dallas becomes the 27th team in NFL history to win 14 regular season games.

  •  Jason Garrett Cracks the Top 50

With a victory on Sunday, Jason Garrett moves into 50th all-time in career win-loss percentage among 171 qualifying coaches. Of coaches who have at least 100 games under their belt, Garrett would move into 36th all-time.

In fact, when combing through the 98 coaches who have coached at least 100 games, it’s difficult to find many who have only one or fewer losing seasons in their first 100 games, as Jason Garrett will have through 104 after Sunday. It’s a select list that includes coaches like Mike Tomlin, John Madden, and John Harbaugh.

  •  The Loneliest Run Defense in History

Teams have pretty much abandoned the run against the Cowboys this season. This is likely due to a number of factors, including Dallas’ dominance in time of possession (No. 2 in the NFL), its skill in defending the run (11th in yards per attempt against), and its difficulty in defending the pass (bottom 10 in the NFL in attempts, yards, and interceptions).

But just how infrequently are teams running the ball against Dallas? The Cowboys have had the ball run against them 310 times this year, which is 24 fewer than Tennessee, which is the next closest team.

If Philadelphia runs the ball 22 or fewer times on Sunday, Dallas will finish with the fewest opponent rushing attempts per game in the history of the league. The Steelers faced only 333 rushing attempts in 2010, amounting to an all-time low of 20.8 attempts per game. Dallas currently averages 20.6 opponent rushing attempts per game.

  •  Return of the Jedi

This is the most obvious reason to watch on Sunday, isn’t it?

We received news on Friday that Tony Romo could indeed dress and play some against the Eagles.

We can debate the wisdom of playing Romo in a meaningless game until we’re blue in the face, but every Cowboys fan out there has to acknowledge a little bit of excitement in getting to see No. 9 take the reins at quarterback again, for what is likely to be the very last time as a Dallas Cowboy.

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