There is extra meaning attached to the Washington Commanders 2023 regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys. That's a good thing.
One could forgive the Washington Commanders for looking ahead. Many of the playing staff won't be around in 2024. Josh Harris' ownership group is about to bring about significant alterations across the board. Ron Rivera is embarking on his final game as head coach.
There have been accusations of going through the motions. But after a surprising turn of events, the Commanders now have extra meaning attached to their Week 18 finale against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.
It might not seem like it, but that's a good thing.
Commanders face huge implications from Week 18 result
This all came thanks to one surprising result. The Arizona Cardinals pulled off a major upset at the Philadelphia Eagles, causing a ripple effect with the Commanders and Cowboys along the way. For very differing reasons, but both are notable nonetheless.
Let's start with the Cowboys. They have a chance to secure the NFC East title for the second time in three years with a victory against Washington before turning their attention to the playoffs. This all but guarantees their starters will be on the field for as long as the game is close. After that, expect them to get some well-earned rest if given the opportunity.
For the Commanders, the Cardinals pulling off one of the season's biggest shocks propelled them to No. 2 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft. This puts them in a prime position to select either Drake Maye or Caleb Williams - the consensus top-two quarterback prospects emerging from the college ranks this year.
While talk of tanking is a divisive subject among the fanbase - especially versus a fierce divisional rival in Dallas - it's a foreign concept within the locker room. Players are fighting for their futures. Coaches want to improve their prospects elsewhere by finishing on a high. Any perceived lack of effort and not being fully committed could result in serious injury.
Even if the benefits of losing in Week 18 are obvious.
Nobody is expecting the Commanders to win. They are severely under-strength. They have an ongoing quarterback conundrum after another indifferent outing from Sam Howell against the San Francisco 49ers. They are a team devoid of confidence after losing 12 of their last 14 games.
Dallas is going in a completely different direction. Mike McCarthy's men look primed for a deep postseason run. They have a huge incentive heading into their last regular season engagement. Perhaps more importantly, the Cowboys have a reputation for preying on and easily disposing of weaker teams around the league.
There is a slight worry about the Commanders pulling off a miracle before Rivera rides off into the sunset. But the sportsbooks are anticipating a blowout. This seems to be the most likely outcome when one looks at the trajectory of these storied franchises.
Winning this game comes with grave consequences attached. Look at the Houston Texans last season. Their final-day heroics under Lovie Smith indirectly led to the Chicago Bears having the No. 1 overall pick in consecutive drafts.
It matters for the long term. And the Commanders' hopes of finally solving their complex riddle at the quarterback position are almost entirely dependent on the Week 18 result.
High stakes, indeed.