With Packers' loss, Cowboys clinch home-field advantage for NFC playoffs

Updated: December 23, 2007, 9:45 PM ET
Associated Press

IRVING, Texas -- Terrell Owens can take his time recovering from a high ankle sprain. The Dallas Cowboys already have clinched home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Lucky Stars?

Dallas locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC thanks to Green Bay's loss in Chicago on Sunday, but is that a blessing or a curse? After all, the 1999 Rams were the last top seed from the NFC to win the Super Bowl. Here's how other top seeds have fared:

No. 1 Seeds in NFC Since '00
Year Top Seed NFC Champ
2007 Cowboys ?
2006 Bears Bears
2005 Seahawks Seahawks
2004 Eagles Eagles
2003 Eagles Panthers
2002 Eagles Bucs*
2001 Rams Rams
2000 Giants Giants
* Won Super Bowl

Dallas locked up the No. 1 seed in the conference Sunday with Green Bay losing to Chicago. While the Cowboys (13-2) and Packers (12-3) could still wind up with the same record, Dallas owns the tiebreaker because it won a head-to-head matchup.

"What we have accomplished to this point is the result of a great effort by our players and coaches. They've earned everything that they have achieved this year," coach Wade Phillips said. "We still have a lot of work to do. Securing the home field is important, but our guys understand that we have to continue to take care of business one week at a time."

Owens actually will have three weeks -- until Jan. 12 or 13 -- to heal the left ankle injury sustained in the second quarter of a 20-13 victory over Carolina on Saturday night.

X-rays showed no break and he left the stadium on crutches, but smiling and wearing a Santa hat. He vowed to be ready for the playoffs, and an MRI taken Sunday showed no further damage, confirming the original diagnosis of a high ankle sprain.

No timetable is set for his return, but he's unlikely to play the finale Sunday in Washington. There's no purpose, really, as the only thing that'll be at stake for the Cowboys is a franchise record 14th victory.

Dallas already has tied the club record of 13 set by the 1992 team, the first Super Bowl champion for Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.

That team didn't have home-field advantage in the playoffs, but the championship teams in '93 and '95 did. This is the first time Dallas has been the No. 1 seed since then.

But top seeds don't always have it that easy. The last No. 1 team from either conference to win it all was the 2003 New England Patriots; the 1999 St. Louis Rams were the last NFC team to do it.

Still, Dallas players and coaches consider this good news. As much as they like the idea of having an NFC championship game in Texas Stadium, they're just as thrilled to know they won't have to play it in Lambeau Field.

So here's what is coming up for the Cowboys: The meaningless finale at Washington, a bye week, then they'll welcome the wild-card winner to Texas Stadium the second weekend in January.

The layoff means there's plenty of time for Dallas to try working out the kinks that have developed the last few weeks.

Since beating the Packers on Nov. 29, the Cowboys have struggled in three straight games. Yet they managed to win two of them.

Against Carolina, Dallas overcame Owens' injury, Roy Williams' suspension and the drama surrounding Tony Romo's thumb injury and his love life to get in position to clinch home-field Sunday.

"This weekend's results give me a great feeling of pride in the job that has been done by our players and our coaching staff," team owner Jerry Jones said. "Wade Phillips has done an outstanding job of guiding our team this year and keeping our players focused on meeting the challenges they faced on a weekly basis.

"I am particularly pleased for the Dallas Cowboys fans who have given us so much support," Jones added. "They are truly deserving of being able to share in the experience of bringing NFL playoff football back to Texas Stadium. We know that our home crowd will make a positive difference in the outcome of our games in January."

The Cowboys haven't hosted a playoff game since 1998 and haven't won a postseason game since 1996. Phillips is 0-3 as a head coach in the playoffs and Romo is 0-1 as a starter.

Circumstances are different this time around -- for the team, the coach and the quarterback.

Only one thing is guaranteed: If they can win two games at Texas Stadium, they'll be headed to Arizona for the Super Bowl.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press