Dallas @ Washington (+13.5)
Power rankings: Dallas 4, Washington 30
Motivation: Dallas has clinched a playoff berth. They can secure the NFC East title with a win or an Eagles loss, who is playing a bad Commanders team. They should be going all out for a win, which would give them the 2 seed in the NFC.
Washington has been dead for quite some time.
Keys to the game, when Dallas has the ball:
The Cowboys are 10th in offensive DVOA (11th pass, 15th run). Dak Prescott sits at 2nd in both PFF grades and ESPN's QBR. They have one of the better receivers in football (CeeDee Lamb) as well as a number of solid complimentary options and an elite offensive line. LG Tyler Smith, a rookie first rounder out of Tulsa, injured his foot last week. The early reports are that Smith will play, but he logged DNP's in Wednesday/Thursday practices. Outside of that, the Cowboys appear healthy and ready to go.
The Commanders defense is pitifully bad, ranking 31st in DVOA (dead last pass, 16th run). They traded away their top two edge rushers at the deadline (Montez Sweat and Chase Young), and are likely without their best corner (Kendall Fuller, knee) and remaining lineman (Jonathan Allen, knee). They do not have a single projected starter with a PFF grade above 70. They will require devine intervention in order to not implode.
When Washington has the ball:
The Commanders are up against a Cowboys defense that ranks 5th in DVOA (6th pass, 9th run). Their pass rush ranks 1st in pass rush win rate and 4th in pressure rate, and you truly do not need anything beyond your eye balls to know how elite they are - the combination of Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence has been giving offenses nightmares all season. They have an elite secondary (Daron Bland/Stephon Gilmore at corner, Malik Hooker at safety) and a linebacker that excels in coverage (Marquese Bell). The defensive line isn't nearly as proficient against the run (they are 27th in ESPN's run stop win rate metric), but there isn't much in terms of a weakness with the Cowboys defense.
As for Washington's offense, they're sitting at 24th in DVOA (27th pass, 16th run). Outside of RG Sam Cosmi, who has legitmate gripe for not being named to the probowl, the offensive line has struggled. Their skill position players aren't particularly efficient either, as per usual their isn't a ton of production outside of Terry McLaurin.
The key comes down to how badly Sam Howell allows the Commanders pass rush to dicate his play. Howell has come under rightful critism for taking far too many sacks this season. He has been sacked 61 times on the year, most in the league. However, he has become much better at avoiding sacks.
Sam Howell pressure to sack rate
Weeks 1-7: 33.1%, dead last
Week 8-present: 14.6%, 13th overall (out of 42)
Sack avoidance is naturally a good thing, but it's come at a cost. Here's a look at Howell's big time throw rate in that same time frame.
Weeks 1-7: 5.2%, 8th
Weeks 8-present: 4.4%, 20th
The result? A PFF grade of 61.6 for both stretches. Howell has become less boom or bust and less aggressive. That's led to less sacks, but the big plays have taken a hit with it, and the resulting effiency is dead even.
At the end of the day, he'll have his work cut out for him. Luckily for us, 13.5 is a lot of fucking points. There's also a non-zero chance the Cowboys take their starters out early if things get out of control, thus increasing the odds of a back door cover.