Why Nobody Should Sleep on Dallas Cowboys as Super Bowl Contenders
But I just did.
If the NFL has taught us anything over the past few years, it's to expect the unexpected, never count out the underdog, and to be wary of a team with its back against a wall.
The Cowboys have a coach under fire, and a quarterback under intense scrutiny. Injuries have decimated a once-reliable defense, and a patchwork offensive line has crippled the offense. Most people have the team buried for good.
Be careful about cornering tigers—you never know when they might strike back.
1) Recent History
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If there is any place to start a discussion about how the Dallas Cowboys could still be considered Super Bowl contenders, it begins with the last two Super Bowl champions.
Two years ago, the Green Bay Packers stood at 8-6 after Week 15. They squeaked into the playoffs as the NFC's sixth seed by winning their last two regular season games, finishing up 10-6. Aaron Rodgers took it from there, and the the rest was history.
Seemed like a fluke until...
The 2011 New York Giants stood at 6-6 after dropping their fourth straight game in Week 13. Winning three of their last four contests, the G-Men also grabbed a playoff spot, taking the NFC East with a 9-7 record. Four consecutive victories later and Eli Manning was hoisting another Lombardi trophy.
The 2012 Dallas Cowboys stand at 5-6, with a winnable game against the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday night. A win would even the Cowboys' record at 6-6 and keep them squarely in playoff contention. Then, if they could find a way into those playoffs riding a winning streak, recent history would tell us not to count them out.
2) The Schedule
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As noted, the Cowboys will face the hapless Eagles on Sunday night, a game that is sure to get them back to .500 on the season.
The Steelers also stand at 6-5, with Charlie Batch as their starting quarterback. The hit-or-miss Saints are just 5-6 on the season and only have two wins away from the Superdome.
Week 17's season finale could set up as a revenge game for the Cowboys, a rematch against the Redskins in Washington D.C., with playoff berths for both teams possibly on the line.
3) Return of DeMarco Murray
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There's no question that the Dallas Cowboys offense is a different beast when a healthy DeMarco Murray resides in the backfield.
Just ask the Baltimore Ravens.
Problem is, since the Week 6 game against the Ravens, there have been no sightings of DeMarco Murray. Sure, Jason Garrett is always talking about his progress (via foxsportssouthwest.com), but it's unclear when the Cowboys star running back will be back on the field.
One thing is clear, though: Murray will return at some point. And whenever that point is, the Cowboys could have themselves a fresh DeMarco Murray for the stretch run, perhaps even the playoffs.
I'm sure most defensive coordinators aren't especially thrilled with that thought.
4) Mediocre Division
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The New York Giants won the NFC East division with a 9-7 record last season. Is there any reason to believe that it will take much more than 9-7 to take the division crown in 2012?
The Eagles are hopeless. The Redskins and Cowboys both stand at 5-6, and the 7-4 Giants have impending losses against the Ravens and Falcons still remaining on their schedule.
A late season surge by the Cowboys surely puts them in the 9-7 range, and opens the door for the 'Boys to sneak into the playoffs.
And we've already discussed what can happen when a team sneaks into the playoffs.
5) League Parity
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When the Cowboys lost to the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, many wrote the team off for good.
And they had a reason.
The Cowboys sat at 5-6. The NFC's second wild-card berth was surely out of the question, as the Cowboys sat behind the 6-4 Buccaneers, Vikings and Seahawks. If that list of teams wasn't daunting enough, the Saints stood at 5-5, and the Redskins (5-6) now own the tiebreaker over Dallas.
Passing all five teams to land the only remaining wild-card spot was a simply a fantasy. The only route left was to win the division, and even that looked bleak.
But then, a funny thing happened.
The Vikings and Buccaneers lost. As did the Seahawks and Saints. Just like that, the Cowboys had new life.
The Cowboys already own the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Buccaneers. The Seahawks and Vikings are likely to wind up 8-8 when all is said and done.
And with the Redskins and Saints still remaining on the schedule, the Cowboys practically control their own destiny in the race for the NFC's final wild-card berth.
Would a Super Bowl run be an improbable path? For sure. But is it time to fall asleep on the Cowboys chances?