FRISCO, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys end up winning the NFC East with a 7-9 record, running back Ezekiel Elliott will celebrate just as he did in 2016, when the Cowboys won it with a 13-3 mark, and in 2018, when they were 10-6.
"A win is a win. No matter how you get there, a win is a win," Elliott said. "I mean, if we win the division at 7-9, I mean, it's the same as winning it at 14-2. You go into the playoffs with a 0-0 record, so I mean, winning the division, it doesn't matter what the record is. If you win it, you win it."
Coach Mike McCarthy will not apologize if the Cowboys end up winning the division, either.
"The division champion gets the same opportunity as every division champion, so our goal is to win Sunday and be the division champ at 7-9," McCarthy said on a conference call with New York media. "I've been part of a team that won a division at 8-7-1, so, I mean, it happens. I think the dynamics of each division is unique to the experience of the players and coaches at every organization. I think this division, you look at it through and through, just with the makeup of it -- it still gives you the same opportunity in the playoffs as the other division champions, so at the end of the day, that's really all that matters."
In 1999, the Cowboys made the playoffs with an 8-8 record in Chan Gailey's second season as coach. He was fired after the season, a move Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones regretted. Jones and executive vice president Stephen Jones have repeatedly said McCarthy will be the coach in 2021, regardless of whether the Cowboys make the postseason.
Washington has not made the playoffs since 2015, and it did it with a 9-7 record. It wasn't expected to be in contention this season, either. If Alex Smith can't play, then Washington will start its fourth different quarterback of the season, with Taylor Heinicke joining Smith, Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen.
"The biggest thing is that we've kind of had a playoff experience for the last half of the year," Washington coach Ron Rivera said. "We've had to win, we've had to win, we've had to win, and then when we get into a situation where, yeah, if you win, great. Now we're back in that situation where you have to win. To me, it's going to be interesting to see how we do handle it."
The Giants last made the postseason in 2016 and have not won more than five games in a season since. New York has lost three straight games, but if the Giants beat the Cowboys and Washington loses, they will become the first team to win a division with a 6-10 mark
"For us in this one right here, obviously, a division game, rivalry game, we want to make sure we continue to play and improve as a team," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "This is the last regular-season opportunity for us to go out there and improve as a team. We didn't set out to say, 'Hey, man, we're going to get better as a team in 14 games.' We said in all 16 games, we want to see a raised level of play and coaching across the board."
Of the three NFC East contenders, getting "hot" has come at different times. The Giants won four in a row from Week 10 to Week 13. Washington won three in a row in Weeks 12-14. The Cowboys enter Sunday's finale with their first three-game win streak since opening 2019 with a 3-0 record.
"After the [first Philadelphia game on Nov. 1], I'm saying, 'We're still in it.' You guys are like, 'Yeah, right.' I can just hear it in your tone of voice," Elliott said. "... And now we're here, Week 17, and we're right there in the mix. It just definitely means a lot. It shows the type of men we have in this locker room, just for us not to give up when everyone else was, and put ourselves in position to still have a shot at winning the NFC East."
If the Cowboys beat the Giants, they will be on their chartered plane back home when Washington and the Eagles kick off. They will have to hope the Wi-Fi on the plane is good enough for them to get updates until they land.
"No. 1, we've got to take care of our job first on Sunday, going out there and get this win," Cowboys center Joe Looney said. "One of the things that's important for me is you've got to enjoy your wins in the NFL, because we all know how hard it is to win. So if we get that win, the first thing I'm thinking is get in that locker room, celebrate with my guys, high-fiving, getting on the plane, enjoying the plane ride home, and then we'll see where those chips fall when they land."