It is far too early for must win games, but neither the Washington Redskins nor the Dallas Cowboys wants to contemplate life after an 0-2 start.
That's the fate one of these teams will face after Sunday's matchup at FedEx Field. The Redskins are coming off a humbling 38-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Monday Night Football. The Cowboys lost a tight 20-19 game at home to the New York Giants.
"We were 6-2 at home (in 2015). It's important because winning on the road isn't easy," Washington coach Jay Gruden said. "Obviously, winning at home isn't easy either, but it's an important game for a lot of reasons. It's a division game, it's the Cowboys and it's a home game -- that's a trifecta right there for you."
The Redskins have a loaded schedule in November and December that includes 2015 playoff teams Minnesota, Green Bay, Arizona and Carolina. They can't afford a slow start. They definitely can't afford to be 0-1 in the division and 0-2 at home. Unlike last year, the schedule just doesn't line up for them down the stretch.
Dallas is still trying to recover from the shock of losing quarterback Tony Romo (back) in the preseason. Rookie Dak Prescott played well in his NFL debut on Sunday and the Cowboys can take heart in having a chance to win late. But an 0-2 start for them would conjure memories of a miserable 2015 when they finished in last place in the NFC East and Romo missed most of the season.
"You come back in on Tuesday and you clean it up. You address what the issues are and try to get better at them," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "Certainly you try to build on the good things that you're doing. It was a hard-fought game the other day against the Giants. Ultimately we didn't do what we needed to do to win the game."
Easier said than done. The Cowboys expected their running game to be a strength with the addition of free agent Alfred Morris from the Redskins and drafting Ezekiel Elliott No. 4 overall from Ohio State.
And maybe it will be. But in the opener against New York, those two combined for just 86 rushing yards on 27 carries. That has to improve against a porous Washington front seven that came into the season with questions about its ability to stop the run.
Penalties killed Washington against Pittsburgh with false starts against offensive linemen Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger. Quarterback Kirk Cousins couldn't make up the difference. He appeared hesitant at times as the Steelers dropped eight players into coverage and generated limited pass rush. Cousins missed too many throws early and the Redskins -- so good in the red zone last season -- saw early drives stall in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Dallas is not asking Prescott to do too much. Morris saw a rookie rise to prominence alongside him in Washington in 2012 when Robert Griffin III produced one of the great seasons in NFL history. Prescott doesn't have to do that much. If he can keep the Cowboys competitive and not cost them games early that will be enough.
"Just losing a guy like that for however long this takes is definitely a blow, but having a young guy like Dak (Prescott), man, this kid is very, very impressive," Morris said. "He's very composed in the pocket. You just watch him, he stands in there and delivers strikes, even with hands and pressure coming at him...He's very, very confident."
It doesn't hurt that he's throwing to Dez Bryant, who was quiet with just one catch for eight yards against the Giants. It will be interesting to see if the Redskins change philosophies after the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown, another elite receiver, caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns on Monday. He did almost all of that damage against No. 2 cornerback Bashaud Breeland and not top corner Josh Norman, who signed with Washington in April.
The Redskins chose not to have Norman follow Brown around the field. Pittsburgh took advantage of Breeland, who has played well in head-to-head matchups with Bryant in the past. But can Washington go back to that well again and let Norman watch as another receiver has a big game?