The Cowboys saved what is left of their season last week with a victory over division rivals Philadelphia. The game wasn’t pretty at times, but whereas in the past the defense came up small when things mattered most they came up huge in this game with two defensive scores late in the game. Now things weren’t perfect defensively. The Cowboys weren’t able to put a ton of pressure on Eagles QBs Michael Vick or Nick Foles, not as much as what was expected in facing an offensive line that has been decimated by injury. There were also quite a few pre-snap penalties. Those have to stop. There is no excuse for falling for a hard count over and over again (six offside/encroachment penalties). Penalties have been a Cowboys bugaboo for a few seasons now and have to stop. Post-snap penalties are one thing, you can understand those in the middle of the action, but pre-snap is all mental.
As for the offense, answering the Eagles touchdown drive on their opening possession with one of their own was a huge momentum shift. The running game with Felix Jones looked good once again. This is a good thing as it doesn’t look like DeMarco Murray will be ready to return this week either. Murray is close, but with Dallas playing Cleveland on Sunday, then Washington four days later, they may elect to hold Murray until the Skins game, or even let him sit for three more weeks and be 100% healthy for the Rematch with the Eagles. The offensive line did have problems with pass protection as QB Tony Romo took quite a few hits in the first half, but things tightened up in the second half allowing Romo to hit big plays to WR Dez Bryant. If there was ever a time for the Dallas offense to start clicking on all cylinders, now is it. The Giants are struggling heading into their bye with a 6-4 record. If the Cowboys were to win this week against Cleveland at home (which we all assume they will), they would be 5-5 and only a game behind the Giants with six to play.
Here is the remaining schedule for both teams heading into Week 12. Dallas plays Washington, Philadelphia, @Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and @Washington. Giants play Green Bay, @Washington, New Orleans, @Atlanta, @Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Schedule does seem to favor the Cowboys. Problem is we all know they are not the most consistent of teams. We’re assuming the Cowboys will beat the hapless Browns this week, but certainly can’t guarantee it. We never know when the mistake filled Cowboys will pop up or when coach Jason Garrett will make mistakes. They both seem to happen all to often. Certainly can’t count on two wins versus Washington either. That is a rivalry and if the Cowboy playoff hopes come down to Week 17 in Washington, not sure I would want to take that bet. The back to back December home games versus Pittsburgh and New Orleans could be their biggest pitfall. Have to win at least one here. The injury to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger could benefit the Cowboys if it’s long term. Hard to see the Steelers beating the Cowboys with Byron Leftwich behind center. The game versus the Bengals probably comes down to which team plays up to their potential. The Bengals just beat the Giants, but also lost to Cleveland. Like the Cowboys, never know which team will show up. Nine wins could win the division. The Giants already have six wins. They play Green Bay after the bye. The way the Giants secondary has played lately, it’s extremely hard to see the Giants winning that game or the New Orleans game two weeks later. The Washington game in between should be a win, but hardly a guarantee. Then it’s back to back games on the road versus Atlanta and Baltimore. Giants would be lucky to split here. They finish up at home against Philly, once again a rivalry game, but with a likely regime change in Philly, this would seem to be a gimme game for the G-men unless the Eagles will try to give coach Andy Reid a going away present.
So you can see why some believe Dallas has the inside track. Schedule is certainly set up for them to go 6-1 or 5-2. People like to point out that the record of the teams that they have lost to is 34-13. Not like they have lost to bad teams. Problem is they have pretty much been their own worst enemy in those games. Who is to say that won’t pop up again in games versus Cleveland and Washington?
As for Cleveland. We all know Dallas is a better team. If they play anywhere near their potential, this should end up being an easy win. Cleveland will have their moments. They have a big playmaker in RB Trent Richardson and WR Josh Gordon seems only to catch long touchdowns. Game could be closer than one would expect if Dallas doesn’t take them seriously. Some might call this a trap game. Not sure how a 4-5 team could view any game as such. My prediction is Dallas 27, Cleveland 17.
Feel free to follow me on twitter, @georgeKurtz