The Dallas Cowboys (13-2) have already locked up the top seed in the NFC, but now they must make a decision that could come back to bite them.
Should they start Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott this Sunday in Philadelphia, or should they rest them for the playoffs? But what if they start their dynamic duo and one – or both – get hurt? What if they sit them but then they look rusty two weeks from now in the divisional round?
It’s a tough decision, and there’s no right answer.
“When you have a bye, especially for a team that has young players that are in the routine, they’ve been grinding, they know exactly how to prepare each and every week – to take two weeks off, to me, is extremely dangerous,” former Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think you prepare as if it’s going to be a normal week. Maybe you pull Dak. You take Zeke from 22 carries down to 8 to 10 and get him out in the second half. Maybe you do that with some of your other guys. But especially the young players, I’m a huge believer that they need that routine to come out there and be consistent, to have the type of success that they want to have.
“Do you rest them?” Carpenter continued. “I don’t think you fully throw them on the couch but maybe you lighten the work load little bit to make sure that they’re going to be fresh, they’re not fatigued, they don’t suffer an undue injury when maybe they’re a little tired and more run down during the course of the game than they typically would be. But I’m not a fan of just saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to take the week off’ – because you already have one coming up. Going two weeks in a winner-take-all format, if you start slow in the NFL against a good squad, you’re going to have a very good chance of losing.”
Carpenter knows from experience. That happened to Dallas in 2007 – Carpenter’s second year in the league – when the Cowboys rested several players against Washington in Week 17 and then came out flat in the playoffs against the Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
“We were a little slow to start, and I think that did play into it,” Carpenter said. “I think that’s why Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett are both hesitant to do that this time.”