Isn’t it insane that people and the media alike are talking about the playoff scenarios of the Dallas Cowboys when they haven’t won a game in two months, and with seven games left in their season, they have to win………seven games?
I was listening to ESPN Radio last night while running a quick errand, and for approximately five minutes, John Clayton discussed the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff chances. It is absolutely deranged that a team that has lost seven straight games along with owning the longest current losing streak in the NFL is being discussed as a playoff contender. Again, every single NFL team has won one of their last seven games except for the Dallas Cowboys.
There are only two teams in recent history that I can recall, that accomplished the feat of winning this many games in a row at the end of the season to secure a playoff spot: the 1995 Detroit Lions, and the 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 1995 Lions started 0-3 and 3-6, and won their last seven just to secure a Wild Card game at Philadelphia, where they were subsequently destroyed by the Eagles, 58-37. That team had a 4000-yard passer (back when that meant something) in Scott Mitchell, two 100-catch/1000-yard receivers in Brett Perriman and Herman Moore, and a 1500-yard rusher in the incomparable Barry Sanders. That Lions team also had a coach in Wayne Fontes, whose job the players were desperate to save. They were also in the best possible position for a comeback with five of their last seven games against divisional opponents. They were able to knock out their competition and win probable tie-breakers along the way.
The 1996 Jaguars started 4-7 in their second year of existence, and won their last five to finish 9-7 and earn a Wild Card birth. Three of those last five games were against divisional opponents, one conference opponent, and an Atlanta Falcon team that had nothing to play for, but still did. The Jags severely lucked out in that Atlanta game, beating them 19-17 as Morten Anderson missed a 30-yard chip-shot as time ran out. Again, the Jaguars were able to score tie-breaker points along their winning streak. Unlike the ’95 Lions, the Jags actually advanced in the playoffs after their furious end-of-season run, beating heavily-favored Buffalo and Denver teams before losing at New England one game short of Super Bowl XXXI.
Only one thing that I can see works for Dallas in their desperate attempt at stealing the NFC East: They are only two and a half games back from the division-leading New York Giants (5-5), and split the series against them. That half-game will be eliminated either way after this weekend, as the Giants take their bye week.
But, so many factors work against the Cowboys in their attempt an scraping out a playoff birth. Their remaining schedule consists of three AFC opponents out of seven remaining. This may be able to help them in the “Win” category, but it doesn’t do much for tie-breakers, which value division and conference victories above all else.
Dallas is going to have to win the NFC East to earn a playoff spot. The Cowboys are currently dead-last in the NFC playoff standings, and in the words of General James Longstreet as describing General George Pickett’s academic prowess, is quite a feat when you consider their competition. The Cowboys are twelfth out of twelve in the Wild Card race. There is no possible way (except for mathematically), they can leap-frog ten of those teams to grab a Wild Card spot.
Their remaining division and conference schedule works against them. Two-thirds of their division games have already been played. The Cowboys have split against both the Eagles and Giants, but still have to play the Redskins twice, including Week 17 at Jerry World. This means that they have to depend on a lot of help within their division, and in the rest of the NFC.
The Dallas defense has failed to force a turnover in six of their nine games thus far. That simple, sad statistic has exactly nothing to do with Tony Romo being out for the last seven weeks. The shortage of forced turnovers indicates a lack of pursuit and a lack of gang-tackling. That doesn’t change overnight because it is also an indicator of how the defense practices during the week, and what their defensive plan emphasizes. You can’t just press the turnover button.
On the offensive side, what are the chances that Tony Romo is going to be able to step in to the starting lineup and play like an All-Pro for the remaining seven games when he hasn’t thrown or read a defense in two months? It’s not like all of their offensive woes and team issues are solved once Romo gets back on the field. I’m not saying that they won’t improve, but a seven-game winning streak is biting off more than they can chew.
One last thought on the matter: Why is there even a discussion on the Cowboys’ playoff chances when they’re sitting in dead last?
Here’s why: Dallas has the single-largest fanbase in the NFL, and consequently, is the most polarizing team in the NFL. They are the team that people love to love and love to hate. They are the Donald Trump of the NFL. I would bet that ESPN’s NFL and NFL Nation site(s) get the most hits for the Dallas Cowboys page or Cowboys-related articles. The most popular article on this very site (and it’s not even close) is my article summarizing the Cowboys’ playoff history of the last twenty years. When you hear the hoopla surrounding a 2-7 team, just remember that no one seems to be talking about the 49ers, Lions, or Saints playoff picture(s), and they all have better records than the Cowboys.