COMMENTARY–The Dallas Cowboys continue to find historically bad ways to lose football games, a trend that could extend their postseason drought to four seasons. But with remaining games against the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys still have a chance to go 6-0 against the NFC East, clinch the division title and advance to the playoffs.
So will Dallas’ recent failure to win big games in December and January trump the success it’s had against division opponents this season? History could very well be on the Cowboys’ side.
Since the 2003 season, Dallas has made the playoffs in every year in which it has at least finished tied for the best record versus NFC East opponents. The Cowboys went 5-1 in the NFC East that year (10-6 overall), tying the Eagles for the best record within the division. Dallas had to settle for a Wild Card berth, however, as Philadelphia won the division with a 12-4 record overall.
The Cowboys have won their first four NFC East games, including back-to-back victories over the Redskins (31-17) and at the Eagles (17-3) in Weeks 6 and 7 respectively. Even consecutive losses at Washington and versus Philadelphia would leave Dallas tied with the Eagles at 4-2 in division play. However, Dallas would miss the playoffs again by finishing 7-9 overall–not to mention ending the season on a four-game losing streak.
The Cowboys can guarantee that they’ll be playing meaningful football in January by completing a season sweep of the NFC East. A loss to Washington wouldn’t end its playoff hopes, but Dallas would then need help from the Chicago Bears in their Sunday night mathchup at Philly, a game that has massive playoff implications for both teams.
Despite Dallas’s success against division foes this season, the recent history of late-season collapses is becoming hard for Cowboys fans to ignore. Sunday’s loss dropped their record to 15-21 in regular season games in December and January since Tony Romo became the full-time starter in 2006.
As if its winter woes weren’t worrisome enough, Dallas can’t take away many positives from the earlier wins over the Redskins and Eagles.
Washington’s defense is last in the NFL in points allowed at 31 per game. However, its offense suddenly looks more dangerous with Kirk Cousins taking over for Robert Griffin, III at quarterback.
In his first NFL start, Cousins shredded the Atlanta Falcons secondary to the tune of 381 yards and three touchdowns. That’s bad news for a Cowboys defense that is dead last in total yards allowed and has made backup QBs Josh McCown and Matt Flynn look like first-ballot Hall-of-Famers over the last two weeks.
The Cowboys miraculously held the Eagles to three points in Philadelphia back in October. But that game now looks like an aberration for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who leads the NFL in QB rating (117.0), is sixth in Total QBR (69.1) and has an outstanding 23:2 TD:INT ratio in nine starts this year.
Dallas will find some comfort in facing Philadelphia’s 30th-ranked defense (31st against the pass). The Eagles allowed Matt Cassel–yes, THAT Matt Cassel–to pass for 382 yards and two TDs in a surprising 48-30 upset loss at Minnesota.
But Philadelphia had won five in a row heading into that game, and is an impressive 5-2 on the road. Whether they win or lose to Chicago on Sunday night, expect the Eagles to be at their best heading into the Week 17 tilt at Dallas, especially with NFC East crown at stake.
A Week 16 loss at Washington could render this conversation a moot point. But given the Redskins’ 3-9 record and overall state of dysfunction, you have to like Dallas’ chances of keeping its playoff hopes alive for at least one more week.
If the Cowboys then lose a third consecutive winner-take-all game for the division title–albeit at home this year–the collective hearts of Cowboys’ Nation will break; and the fallout will make for a very interesting offseason in Big D.