Are the First-Place Dallas Cowboys a Threat To Make a Deep Playoff Run?
Following a last-second win against the Miami Dolphins on Thanksgiving day, and a New York Giants' loss to the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, the Cowboys find themselves in sole possession of first place of the NFC East for the first time this year.
Now that the Cowboys are in first place and are more likely to make the playoffs every week, the speculation as to how deep the Cowboys can make it in the playoffs is inevitable.
For those of you who have engaged in this speculation, these are some key points you need to take into account.
How Will the Cowboys Finish the Season?
The Cowboys will face the New York Giants on the road on New Year's Day in a game that could determine their playoff future.
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The final five games of the Cowboys regular season consists of three away games: at Arizona (12/4), at Tampa Bay (12/17) and at New York Giants (1/1); and two home games: New York Giants (12/11) and Philadelphia Eagles (12/24)
The Cowboys will start December on the road in Arizona, a place that has given the Cowboys troubles in recent years. The last time the Cowboys played at University of Phoenix Stadium, they lost both Tony Romo and Mat McBriar in a devastating overtime loss. The Cardinals are only 4-7 this season and should not be tough for the Cowboys to handle.
The following week the Cowboys will face their division rival New York Giants for the first of two games between the teams down the stretch. The Giants started the season 6-2, but after three strait losses, they find themselves at 6-5 and fighting for a playoff spot. The Giants defense has been one of the worst in the league, and their rushing attack ranks dead last with only 82 yards per game.
Tampa Bay is another very winnable game for the Cowboys. The Buccaneers have lost five strait games and seem to be falling apart.
Luckily, the Cowboys' Christmas Eve matchup against the Eagles is at home, so the players will not need to worry about being pelted by battery filled snowballs being thrown by a guy in a santa suit.
The NFL's version of the Miami Heat, the Eagles came into the season appearing to be the most talented team in the NFL but have underperformed all season long. Cowboys fans should still be worried about this game as the Eagles handed the Cowboys their worst loss of the season in the teams first matchup, winning 34-7.
The final game of the season will be the second game against the Giants in a four-week span. The game at the Meadowlands could very likely determine which team will represent the NFC East in the playoffs.
At best, the Cowboys could finish the season 4-1, giving them an 11-5 overall record, or as bad as 2-3, leaving them with a 9-7 record and likely out of the playoffs.
Prediction: 3-2 in final five games, overall 10-6 record. Fourth place in NFC.
Will the Cowboys Continue Their Post November Slump?
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Tony Romo's 19-2 November record gives him the best November win percentage in NFL history. His 11-12 December record and 1-3 playoff record's do not tell the same story.
In the last nine seasons, the Cowboys have been 17-24 in the month of December and only have one playoff victory since their Super Bowl Championship in 1996.
If the Cowboys hope to make a run at the Super Bowl, they will have to reverse both of these trends.
Key Offensive Players for a Deep Playoff Run
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In order for the Cowboys to advance in the postseason, they need the Tony Romo from the San Francisco 49ers game to show up, as opposed to the Tony Romo from the Detroit Lions game. If Romo can avoid making turnovers and make the throws he knows he can make, the Cowboys have a Pro Bowl quarterback and can look ahead to the postseason.
After Miles Austin went down with a hamstring injury against the Seattle Seahawks, Robinson has done an exceptional job filling in as the No. 1 receiver. He has snagged seven touchdowns and had three 70-plus yard games in the last five weeks. With Austin coming back soon, expect more out of Robinson as he will receive less attention from defenses.
Free has been penalized a team-high nine times for 65 yards this season. Most of these penalties have been false starts that should have been avoided. Free must quit jumping the gun and moving the offense backwards as it has cost the Cowboys potential points time and time again this season.
Key Defensive Players for a Deep Playoff Run
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Ware currently leads the league in sacks with 14 and is a valuable asset to the Cowboys' secondary who are known to give up the big play. One of football's most-feared players, Ware must continue to perform and take pressure off the secondary, or the Cowboys will be torn apart by an Aaron Rodgers-led offense.
Lee leads the team with 72 tackles and has also provided three interceptions this season, part of which he has played with a broken wrist. He's the heart of the Cowboys' interior defense and must continue to perform.
With the return of Mike Jenkins, Sensabaugh will be able to move back to his free-safety position, a position which has been played by Barry Church in recent weeks. Sensabaugh and Abram Elam must prevent the deep ball, which has haunted the Cowboys in years past.
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The Cowboys will likely enter the postseason as NFC East champs with the fourth seed. This would put them at home against one of the wild-card teams, likely the Atlanta Falcons or the Detroit Lions.
The Cowboys have shown already that they can beat the Lions as long as Romo does not throw the ball to the wrong team. The Falcons are also a team that the Cowboys can beat, and I see the Boys advancing past either of these teams.
In the second round of the playoffs, the Cowboys would likely face the Green Bay Packers. This Packers team is still undefeated and very well could still be after their first-round playoff bye.
The Packers are an extremely talented team that would most likely beat the Cowboys. The Cowboys have been in every game they have played this season except for one, and even the Packers are a beatable team. If they could advance past the Packers, they would likely face a San Francisco team they have already beaten or the New Orleans Saints.
Whether the Cowboys will make a deep run in the playoffs, we will just have to wait and see. Do the Cowboys have the talent to do so? Yes. Can they put together a run and actually pull it off? Only time will tell.
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