The Dallas Cowboys Have Clinched a Spot in the 2021 NFL Playoffs. Now What?

The Dallas Cowboys are officially in the NFL playoffs for the first time in three seasons. They haven’t even played a game yet in Week 16, but The Boys have clinched their spot in the dance thanks to the Tennessee Titans beating the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football.

Now all the Cowboys need to figure out is where to send the “thank you” card.

Well, there are a few more things Dallas may want to accomplish before the regular season closes out and the playoffs begin. There are three things, in particular, that should be next up on the docket for the Cowboys.

Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys need to tune up on offense

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys offense
Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys hands the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

On paper, we’re looking at a Dallas offense that is No. 2 overall, only behind the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys put up 28.6 points per game, which is second behind Tampa’s 29.3. They also lead the league in yards per game with 403.3 and total yards accumulated on offense with 5,646.

That doesn’t sound like an offense that needs work, does it?

On paper, the Cowboys are elite. If you actually watch the games, though, you’d know that Dallas has some things to shore up before the playoffs begin.

First and foremost is quarterback Dak Prescott, who has thrown five touchdowns in the past five games, but also five interceptions. That’s good enough to get by the Saints, Washington, and the Giants, but those three teams have a combined record of 17-25.

A 1-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is not going to cut it against the Packers, Buccaneers, and Rams.

The Cowboys have also had some issues on third down, and yes, a lot of that falls on Prescott and his arm.

Even during this three-game win streak, Dallas has gone 2-of-13 on third down against the Saints, 7-of-18 against Washington, and 8-of-14 against the Giants. The Cowboys have an overall third-down percentage of 41.27% this season, which is in the top half of the league. With that said, that percentage drops down to 37.78% over the last three games, and that’s near the bottom of the league.

That needs to be sorted out between Week 16 and the playoffs.

The Cowboys need to get and stay healthy

Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, and the Dallas Cowboys
Ezekiel Elliott #21, Dak Prescott #4, and Keanu Neal #42 of the Dallas Cowboys wait in the tunnel before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium | Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The NFL’s recent COVID-19 outbreak notwithstanding, health has been an issue all season long for the Cowboys. Just looking at the injury report for Week 16’s matchup with Washington. There are at least two notable players who Dallas would love to get to full strength by the time the playoffs start.

The first is Ezekiel Elliott, who has been playing through a knee injury much of the season. Rest aside, there may not be much Elliott can do in-season to improve his condition, but he has been playing better as of late and looking a bit more limber. If the Cowboys can wrap up the NFC East quickly and perhaps even get Zeke some rest or at least a lightened load over the next few weeks, one can only imagine how that would impact his explosiveness in a playoff game for the better.

There’s also eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith to consider at left tackle. He’s missed multiple games this season with an ankle injury and was most recently listed as “questionable” on the injury report for the upcoming clash against Washington. The Cowboys probably won’t need him to beat Washington, but they’ll undoubtedly want him as close to 100% as possible while facing some of the top pass rushers in the NFC come playoff time.

Elliott and Smith are two prominent examples, but health, or lack thereof, at this time of the season is oftentimes the difference between making a run to the playoffs and falling short.

While Dallas undoubtedly wants to keep the pedal to the metal to finish out the regular season, the bigger picture also needs to stay in focus.

The Cowboys need to make a statement

Speaking of “pedal to the metal,” the Cowboys have an opportunity to enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams, not just in the NFC, but in all of the NFL.

The three-game win streak is excellent, but the Cowboys have a legitimate shot to double that number before the regular season is up.

Dallas beat Washington two weekends ago on the road. Washington has now lost two straight, and it’s not hard to imagine the Cowboys beating the WFT at home on Sunday Night Football.

The Week 17 clash with the Cardinals could end up being a really nice playoff preview for Dallas, but this is not the same Arizona team that just recently held the top spot in the NFC. At the time of this writing, the Cardinals have lost two straight games, including a huge upset at the hands of the Detroit Lions. Arizona faces a strong Indianapolis team in Week 16, so there’s a decent chance the Cardinals head to Dallas on a three-game skid and completely devoid of confidence.

Last but not least for the Cowboys are the Eagles. And sure, you can never count out an NFC East rival, especially one that may have the potential to play spoiler for Dallas. With that said, the Cowboys beat the Eagles, 41-21, in Week 3. If the Cowboys continue rolling, it’s hard to predict an outcome that doesn’t look similar.

If Dallas can enter the playoffs at 13-4 and on a six-game heater, that would be quite the statement for a franchise that many people think is “all bark and no bite.” It may even be enough to get Dallas the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

So yes, the playoffs are clinched. That’s a certainty for the Cowboys. With that said, there’s still a lot on the table and tons left to do as the regular season comes to a close. 

Stats courtesy of ESPN and Pro Football Reference. Contract information via Spotrac.

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