...And that something is a someone .
His name is Terrell Owens.
This is where the die-hard, rah-rah traditionalists say, "What are you talking about? The guy is a selfish player, all about himself, and the Cowboys are in first place without him."
Yes, Dallas is 8-3 and atop the NFC East, but anyone—Cowboys fan or not—that believes that Owens' departure is the explanation for their success, is either lying to themselves or doesn't follow Dallas very closely.
While WR2 Miles Austin has enjoyed a refreshing breakout season, WR1 Roy Williams (who was supposed to "replace" Owens) has been a dud, and one of the favorite whipping boys for analysts around the league. Williams makes ill-advised comments just as Owens did, but he doesn't have the statistical production to back it up. Let's go to the numbers to date:
Williams: 26 rec, 444 yards, 4 TD
Owens: 40 rec, 659 yards, 3 TD
All right, so Roy has one more TD than T.O., but T.O. has 14 more receptions and a 215-yard advantage. And here's the kicker: this is one of the worst, if not the worst season of Owens' Hall of Fame career.
In addition, Bills fans have rightfully blamed Dick Jauron and QB Trent Edwards for Owens' numerical decline, as a new head coach and quarterback have immediately returned No. 81 to form.
T.O.'s last two games with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm: 9 rec 197 yards 1 TD, and 5 rec 96 yards 1 TD. Edwards was horrific as the starter this season, struggling with a lack of arm strength and a stubbornness in regards to Owens.
When you have a receiver of that caliber at your disposal, it's OK to rely on them. If he can single-handedly win games for you, there shouldn't be an intense desire to spread the ball around to multiple targets.
Fitzpatrick, a Harvard man, understands that.
That doesn't mean that all other receivers should be ignored, only that Owens should be leaned upon and force fed if necessary.
So Owens has outproduced Roy Williams despite having to deal with Edwards' ineptitude for too long, and the fact that QB Tony Romo is about fifty times better than both of Buffalo's quarterbacks. Owens may have been an off-the-field distraction in Dallas, but on the field, he and Romo had excellent chemistry. Both put up exceptional numbers during their era as teammates.
As for the current Cowboys, sure they are 8-3, but they are lacking in offensive explosiveness. RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones have struggled with injuries at different times during the year, TE Jason Witten has been less productive, and WR3 Patrick Crayton is here today, gone tomorrow.
For me to consider this team a serious Super Bowl contender, they would need a WR1 like, oh...Terrell Owens. I like Jerry Jones, but something tells me that this major offseason decision is going to bite him in the behind.
I expect the Cowboys to reach the postseason with relative ease, but don't expect them to get very far.
Not without a receiver like No. 81.
(John Frascella is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land," the first and only book centered on Boston's popular GM Theo Epstein. Follow John on Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)