ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys spent most of Christmas weekend preparing for a Sunday night game against Washington.
By kickoff, they had already notched two wins since they last took the field: a playoff berth and then the NFC East title.
On Thursday, the Cowboys became the second NFL team to clinch a postseason spot this season when the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Tennessee Titans. They secured their division title late Sunday afternoon when the Las Vegas Raiders won an AFC West contest against the Denver Broncos, 17-13. The reasoning, in short: The Eagles’ victory over the Broncos, to whom the Cowboys had lost, no longer lends as much credence in the NFL’s strength-of-victory, leaving Philadelphia unable to make up ground.
If that sounds convoluted, it is. But what’s not in question: The Cowboys’ 2021 NFC East title.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy eyed a division title Friday after the Cowboys’ playoff eligibility was secured.
“We had confidence that we’d check this box,” McCarthy said Friday of making the playoffs, “but this is about winning the division outright and staying in the hunt for a higher seed.”
At 10-4, the Cowboys host Washington on Sunday night followed by 10-5 Arizona. They complete the regular season at 8-7 Philadelphia. The Eagles could be vying for playoff contention that week. The Cowboys, similarly, could have NFC playoff seeding on the line.
Dallas’ NFC East title is its first since 2018, and the Cowboys’ third since the franchise drafted quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. No team has defended the NFC East since the Eagles in 2003-04.
But first up, the Cowboys will look to edge Washington a mere two weeks after their last contest. Dallas’ three-game road streak encourages the club. But the Cowboys have identified clear areas they need to grow including re-establishing the offensive rhythm they demonstrated earlier this year.
“It’s about controlling what we can and going out and winning another division game, clinching this division and staying focused on getting better,” Prescott said. “Making sure we’re hitting our stride at the best (time), moving forward here and the end of December and into next month.
“Make sure we continue to get better and we peak at the right time.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.