FRISCO, Texas (TNS) — The Dallas Cowboys have already clinched the NFC East title and are locked into the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Barring an unforeseen miracle, running back Ezekiel Elliott has pretty much sewn up the NFL rushing title for the second time in three years, and yards per game title for a third straight year.
He has 1,434 yards through 15 games, 183 more than Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (1,251), who is expected to sit out the final game with an injury and rest up for the playoffs.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is third with 1,198 yards but he will have to have a record-setting day to catch Elliott when the Cowboys (9-6) play at the Giants (5-10) in Sunday's season finale.
So why is Elliott even playing and risking himself to injury one week before the wild-card matchup against either the Seattle Seahawks or the Minnesota Vikings?
Because he and a Cowboys offense, which has struggled to score of late, want to build some momentum to take into the playoffs.
And because he wants to make sure he wins the rushing title as a reward, not only for the struggles the Cowboys had this season when they were left for dead at 3-5, but also because of what he went through last year when he missed six games due to an NFL suspension, costing him possibly three consecutive rushing titles.
"It's definitely on my mind," Elliott said. "The plan is to go out there and play and approach this week the same we have been approaching the past weeks. We got to make sure we come out there and have a lot of intensity and have some momentum going into the wild card week."
When he rushed for 1,637 yards to win the rushing title as a rookie in 2016, Elliott sat out the season finale because the Cowboys had already locked up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and had a first-round bye.
The Cowboys were one-and-done in the playoffs, losing to Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. But Elliott said sitting out had no bearing on the outcome of that game and that this is a different team.
"We are built a little bit different," Elliott said. "We definitely rely more on our intensity and how hard we play and be in a groove. This is the right thing to do."
Elliott doesn't like to talk much about last season, which was marred by an eight-week battle with the NFL in federal court before having to serve a six-game suspension. The Cowboys went 3-3 in his absence, finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
But winning the rushing title is also satisfying for him in a season he came in wanting to make amends to his teammates.
"It means a lot," Elliott said. "They drafted me the No. 4 overall pick. I'd like to think that I've fulfilled all the expectations that they've expected of me. I'm just glad to be in this situation, glad to be on this team and glad to be with these guys.
"I think I'm pretty close to locking it up. I mean, it's definitely a great achievement and I've just got to thank all those other guys on offense who helped make that possible."