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Sunday, December 30, 2012
W2W4: Cowboys vs. Redskins

By Calvin Watkins

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The rematch has arrived.

The Cowboys and Redskins meet at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Sunday night with the winner taking the NFC East and No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The winner will host the Seahawks in the first round.

Here are a few things to watch for.

The series: The Cowboys lead the overall season series 62-41-2, and the win total is Dallas' most over any other NFL franchise. A 63rd win would clinch the franchise's 22nd division title and 18th NFC East title and push the Cowboys into the postseason for the 31st time. The Redskins beat the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, 38-31. However, Dallas has won six of the last eight games between the rivals.

Who missed the first game? The Cowboys' offensive line was a mess. Gone were left tackle Tyron Smith and center Ryan Cook. Starting running back DeMarco Murray was also out. The Cowboys running game suffered as a result. Felix Jones rushed for just 14 yards on six carries in a game that forced the Cowboys to pass. Murray, Smith and Cook will participate in the rematch, so things could be much better. The Cowboys' offensive line has improved with the return of a healthy Cook and the rotation at right tackle between Doug Free and Jermey Parnell helping Murray produce. Murray has rushed for 83, 53, 81 and 40 yards since his return from a sprained foot.

Stopping RG III: Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said his unit was slaughtered by the Redskins' offense in the first game. Robert Griffin III threw four touchdowns and had four pass completions of 20 or more yards. Griffin runs the pistol offense well and uses a play-action pass to near perfection. It will be interesting to see how Tony Romo and Griffin run the play-action Sunday night. The Cowboys did sack Griffin four times in the first meeting, but the rematch will have Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware nicked up with elbow and shoulder injuries. The Cowboys have to keep Griffin in the pocket and somehow slow down running back Alfred Morris (third in NFL with 1,413 rushing yards entering Sunday) from dominating.

What happens if Cowboys lose? The first issue regards Jason Garrett. He will most likely remain the head coach for 2013 regardless of what happens Sunday night. Players who become unrestricted free agent include Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, Kevin Ogletree, L.P. Ladouceur, Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman, Bryan Moorman, John Phillips and Derrick Dockery. This list does not include newly-signed players such as Ernie Sims, who signed a one-year deal. Ladouceur appears to be a lock to return, and Spencer could either get franchised again or test the market. Everyone else might be playing with the Cowboys for the last time. Romo enters the final year of his contract. The Cowboys are roughly $20 million over the salary cap, but there's an expectation the two sides will begin talks for an extension.

If the Cowboys win? The New Year gets off to a great start for the Cowboys, who would host a first-round playoff game against Seattle. Dallas lost to the Seahawks in Week 2. Garrett's status will be solidified with no fuss and maybe the Cowboys decide to keep Spencer and sign him to a long-term deal. It also means rookie safety Matt Johnson will practice next Wednesday; he's missed the entire season with leg injuries. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff, out after having sports hernia surgery, could become a viable option to return in the postseason should the Cowboys make a deep run.