PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys can't even play the spoiler role in the final game of a lost season.
When the NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles were upset by Minnesota, it made Sunday's Cowboys-Eagles game at the Linc meaningless in the standings.
The Eagles (10-5) are locked into the No. 3 seed and will host a first-round playoff game next weekend. The Cowboys (5-10) are heading home for an offseason that could be turbulent.
This is a far cry from the past two years when these teams met on the last day of the regular season with so much at stake.
In 2008, a wild-card berth was on the line. The Eagles beat Dallas 44-6 and ended up reaching the NFC championship game. Last year, the division title was the prize. The Cowboys won 24-0 and eliminated Philadelphia with a 34-14 win the following week in the playoffs.
Don't tell the young players fighting for roster spots next year that this game doesn't matter.
Quarterback Stephen McGee will make his first career start if Jon Kitna's injured oblique doesn't allow him to play. McGee played the entire second half in a 27-26 loss at Arizona on Christmas Day, and took Dallas from 11 points down to leading by two in the final minutes.
"Every chance you do get is a huge opportunity. You send that video out to the whole league," McGee said. "Everybody sees it, everybody takes notice. It's basically a resume for the NFL. It's definitely an opportunity that if I do get, I want to make the most of and show people what I can do."
The result of the game definitely matters more to one of the coaches. Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett is trying to secure the job on a permanent basis, so a win might improve his chances. Eagles coach Andy Reid wants to make sure his team is ready to play its third game in 12 or 13 days when it hosts Green Bay, the New York Giants or Tampa Bay on Jan. 8 or 9. He'll likely rest quarterback Michael Vick, who is nursing a quad injury, and other starters.
"You have to look at what's at stake if you play them, injury-wise," Reid said. "Some guys need the play time, some guys need the rest time. So I have to look at who those guys are, and what situations I put them in, and so on. But at the same time you want to win the game no matter who's playing."
A victory would give Garrett a 5-3 record since replacing Wade Phillips at midseason. It would also help distance the Cowboys from a horrific 1-7 start to a season that began with them having aspirations of becoming the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its home city.
Those hopes were dashed months ago. Instead, the second half has been all about next season and finding out which players can contribute best.
"The nature of the NFL is that it does turn over from year to year. It's a very competitive business," Garrett said. "We're not trying to not look at players. We want to see our guys play. We want to put them in practice situations and preseason situations, and certainly if there's an opportunity in a regular season game, we want to evaluate them. We evaluate them every minute of every day — how they conduct themselves in meetings and walkthroughs and on the practice field and if they do get a chance to play. We've played a lot of young guys and we'll do that this week."
The Cowboys' three losses under Garrett have been by a total of seven points. Among those were field-goal losses to Philadelphia and defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans. Garrett is certainly expected to be near the top of the list of candidates owner Jerry Jones considers for the job after the season.
Garrett surely will have his players fired up to play this one, even if Philadelphia's top priority is staying healthy. The Eagles could've been playing for a first-round bye had they beaten the lowly Vikings, who were 14-point underdogs.
The disappointing 24-14 loss to Minnesota in a game that was postponed two days because of a snow storm in Philadelphia last Sunday put a big dent in the Eagles' Super Bowl hopes. They'll have to win three games to get there, and at least one of those games will be on the road.
But at least they're playing beyond this week. For many of the Cowboys, this is one last opportunity to show what they can do before heading off to an early vacation.
"This league, this world that we live in, is measured by going to the playoffs and getting to the end," said Kitna, who has filled in nicely since replacing the injured Tony Romo. "But there's a lot to be gained in the locker room, and you're always being evaluated. It would be a mistake for anybody that has to go out and play to think like it doesn't mean anything because if it's being put on tape, everybody's watching it. Whether it's here or anywhere, they're going to see how many plays you play and they're going to make a judgment on you about those plays. There's a lot of personal meaning to it for sure."