A few weeks ago it seemed like the Dallas Cowboys had met their fate and were in a world of doom. It's as if they were destined for more failure and they just couldn't get out of there own way. But as of today, the outlook for the Cowboys has taken on an entirely new complexion.
While it's premature to overreact to one singular win, it seems that the stars are starting to align in a more clear path that's allowing this team back in thick of things in the NFC. Getting a much needed win to a division rival not only improves their NFC East record to 2-1; for the time being, it secures sole possession of second place.
For the Cowboys, it's all about baby steps right now, but last week just might prove to be a huge one. The New York Giants, who currently occupy first place, are suddenly sputtering in all phases of the game. Eli Manning looks out of sync, the offense is not scoring points, the defense looks porous and suddenly they are on a two-game losing streak.
A multitude of factors have shed some new light on the Cowboys' season and have also presented an enormous opportunity. As it stands now, a snapshot of the NFC East sits with the Giants at 6-4, Cowboys at 4-5 and the Eagles and Redskins both at 3-6.
The Giants are currently in their bye week, so that means the Cowboys have a chance to pull within a half game of the division, and only Cleveland and Washington stand in the way of that. The Cowboys just completed a rough stretch of their schedule and now may reap the benefits of playing some sub-.500 opponents and stacking some wins. But that's only if they play with urgency, realize the opportunity and execute.
The Eagles and Redskins are dealing with their own problems, and while both teams entered the season with high expectations, it seems that a cold reality has now put that into serious jeopardy. The Eagles have now begun the Nick Foles Era and are dealing with a fanbase that is calling for Andy Reid's ouster, and the Redskins are trying desperately trying to get a win while facing injuries and inconsistent play.
Ironically, the Eagles and Redskins play each other this weekend, and the division has a chance to see the Cowboys sitting at 5-5 while either the Eagles or Redskins fall to 3-7. The Cowboys would find themselves in an opportunistic situation to beat Washington on Thanksgiving Day and finally get over the .500 mark. You can bet the Redskins will bring their A-game for this contest, but the Cowboys should emerge victorious.
So that would bring us to Week 13, and the Cowboys season could look even better. In looking ahead to their opponents, here is what lies ahead.
The Cowboys have a rematch with the Eagles and they will be looking for redemption and looking to play spoiler. Who knows where Andy Reid's situation will stand by then, but I like the sound of being 7-5 and watching the Eagles potentially being 4-8. This will be another NFC East dog fight. You can bet on that.
The Cowboys face a dangerous Cincinnati Bengals team that just dismantled the Giants. Andy Dalton, AJ Green and a hungry defense will be looking to put pressure on Tony Romo and fight for their own playoff chances in the AFC. This could either be a focused Cowboys team that will take care of a mediocre opponent or a replica of the Seattle game. I still think Dallas comes out of Ohio at 8-5.
The Cowboys will host the Pittsburgh Steelers and their vaunted defense. The question is whether Ben Roethlisberger will be on hand to play, but either way, they will be a handful for the Cowboys. This could be the kind of game that is a signature win for the Cowboys, or it could be a humbling loss. I'll go with 8-6.
There is nothing easy about playing a Saints team led by Drew Brees accompanied by weapons like Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and a veteran defense that's been in plenty of battles. This is a very dangerous opponent that will also be in their own playoff hunt, regardless of what their record indicates.
This could set the "another December swoon" reference in motion, or a win could define the Cowboys' season. But I like positive energy, and in keeping with that spirit, the Cowboys win in a shootout. 9-6 never felt so good.
The Cowboys end the season going on the road to the nation's capital to play a Redskins team with nothing left to play for except 2013 employment. But like playing any other NFC East foe, the Redskins will play a spirited and intense game. If the Cowboys are going to be the team they are capable of and reverse the usual December swoons, then they need to come out and plant their flag in D.C.
While my optimistic scenario potentially ends with a Cowboys team finishing at 10-6, the only thing that matters right now is that it's within the realm of comprehension. The Giants have an extremely tough schedule ahead, which only works in the Cowboys' favor.
The NFL has the ability to change in a New York minute, and the Cowboys could easily alter their own fate by falling back into their usual results and not seizing the opportunity. Thirteen penalties a game, dropped passes, critical mental errors and questionable play-calling could easily add up to a 6-10 finish and anarchy in the state of Texas.
But the fact remains that with one single victory over Philadelphia, suddenly the season has taken on a whole new meaning with tangible possibilities. If the Cowboys can realize and achieve those possibilities, it would be considered progress. If not, the entire season would be deemed meaningless.