The Dallas Cowboys are still alive, but with DeMarco Murray still out, Sean Lee gone for the year and the offense continuing to slump, the feeling surrounding "America's Team" is that this season is on the verge of being lost.
A lot can change, though in November and December, and nobody has been close to perfect in the NFC East. Let's look at where the 'Boys stand at midseason and break down the team's chances of making a playoff run with a light second-half schedule.
What They Should be Thinking
Our last three losses came to division-leading teams from Baltimore, New York and Atlanta. The good news is that we outplayed the first two teams listed above and we lost all three games by less than a score, but the bad news is that we've been unable to defeat playoff-caliber opponents since beating the Giants way back in Week 1.
However, that could mean we'll have a chance to make a run regardless, because seven of our final eight games come against teams with sub-.500 records. The only outlier there comes against the 5-3 Steelers at home. If we can win that one and take care of seemingly inferior teams, we might have a chance to pull the division out of our hat.
After all, the Giants have been historically bad in the second half of the year and aren't playing very good football right now on either side of the ball. And if we have to settle for a wild-card spot, the competition is wide open for the No. 6 seed currently being occupied by the 5-4 Seahawks.
Can we do it? Well, we're not allowing a lot of points, but we certainly aren't scoring very many either. It's very un-Dallas-like. We have the personnel on offense to improve our scoring rate, especially when DeMarco Murray is able to return.
But we also really started to feel the wrath of not having Sean Lee when Michael Turner ran us over in the second half Monday night. Bruce Carter's one hell of a player, but not having Lee could end up costing us a crucial game down the stretch.
To atone for that, we really have to get our inconsistent pass rush going. DeMarcus Ware made some nice plays in Atlanta. We have just 16 sacks in eight games, putting us on pace to drop from 42 in 2011 to 32 in 2012. That pace has to pick up, starting Sunday in Philadelphia.
Most Valuable Player: Sean Lee
Sorry to depress you, Cowboys fans, but Lee was dominating before going down for the year with a foot injury. The tackle machine was crushing the dreams of opposing running backs and kicking ass in coverage. Now we'll see if Bruce Carter or DeMarcus Ware can step it up.
Offensive Player of the Half-Year: Miles Austin
Jason Witten and Tony Romo deserve credit, too, but Austin's probably been the most consistently effective player on this offense. He's on pace to put up over 80 catches, 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns, and he's only dropped one pass all season (according to Pro Football Focus).
Most Improved Offensive Player: Phil Costa
He's been limited again by injuries, but when Costa's been on the field he's looked like a whole new player this season. The Cowboys might actually have their long-term answer at center, assuming Costa can avoid the injury-prone label going forward.
Most Improved Defensive Player: Bruce Carter
Carter's so fast, so strong and so instinctive, and as a result he's reminding a lot of people of a young Ray Lewis in his second season. The 2011 second-round pick couldn't stay healthy and was never able to get on track as a rookie, but he was the team's best defensive player in Atlanta Sunday night.
Offensive Rookie of the Half-Year: N/A
I could give it to Cole Beasley, who has three catches, or James Hanna, who has one. Bottom line, no rookie has impacted this offense at all this year.
Defensive Rookie of the Half-Year: Morris Claiborne
It's been a bumpy ride at times, but that's normal for a rookie cornerback. Overall, Claiborne's been a major upgrade as a starting corner during his rookie season. You can see that he's going to be a shutdown presence for years to come.
Most Disappointing Player: Dez Bryant
This was supposed to be his breakout season, but Bryant has displayed a severe lack of focus throughout the first half of the year. He's dropped seven passes, which is the second-highest total in football, and he's screwed up more than a few routes. Not sure he has what is required upstairs to become an elite wide receiver.
Projecting the Final Eight
The margin for error is so slim, and this is a team that isn't good at avoiding errors. Right now, 5-3 is the best I can imagine for them in the second half. Unfortunately, they'd need six or seven wins to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
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