Nothing yanks on the proverbial patella more than Dallas Cowboys football. The sheer magnitude of the chasmic swings vacillating between coke binge-level exhilaration and coke binge comedown-level despair that come with following this team over the course of a season has to be unique to this franchise. Unlike other sports, with just 17 games played just once a week, NFL football already dominates viewer attention. Add to that being the world’s most popular sports franchise, not to mention a storied one with a long history of success (regardless of how many decades we are currently removed from it), and the peerless amount of focus paid to the Silver and Blue by fans, and the local and national media machine can’t help but exponentially magnify every win and every loss to disproportionate levels. A Cowboys season, therefore, is a test of the flexibility of one’s neck, the transition from one contest to the next a challenge in just how much whiplash one’s spinal column can tolerate.
This is true during an average year. Doubly so when Dallas forces that usual game-by-game heaven-or-hell contrast into interstellar overdrive as they seem to have over these last four months. A team perennially plagued by overreaction, both good and bad, gave its observers plenty to blow out of proportion this year.
Overall, it’s certainly been more Jekyll than Hyde. Head Coach Mike McCarthy led his squad to their third consecutive 12-win season, a feat not accomplished in this town since the bygone glory days of the Triplets. As such, Mike & Co. managed to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC and will host the Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card round on Sunday. Yet when the Hyde-ian monster did manage to come out, the destruction it wreaked upon knee-jerky fans’ fragile psyches was massive.
This past Sunday, the regular season came to a close in much the same fashion as it began in September with an MVP-caliber Dak Prescott-led offense beating up on an inferior division rival, this time spanking the Washington Commanders (“Football Team” was an infinitely better nickname) 38-10. Including the 40-0 shutout over the Giants in Week 1, this most recent shellacking was Dallas’ ninth win this year by more than 20 points. That’s more such victories than any franchise in the league since the Patriots managed 10 in their “perfect” 2007 season. More often than not, when the Cowboys won, they tended to win in blowout fashion.
The crux, as has been exhaustively highlighted, is that those wins came largely against bad teams. Only four of Dallas’ dubs were against squads with a winning record, making our overall record against winning (see: also “good”) teams right at .500. What exactly does this tell you about your team?
When you consider the Cowboys’ performance against the league’s top-tier opponents this season, the picture gets even muddier. Miami and Philadelphia (after finishing the season 1-5, should we really be counting Philthy among the top-tier at this point?) managed squeaker victories over Dallas in their respective home stadiums. The Cowboys also blew out the questionable Iggles and managed to pull off their own squeaker against Detroit (I’m a fan, but the recklessness of Dan Campbell lost the Lions that game) in Arlington. You figure all these games basically cancel each other out. The big gulp moment comes when you recall the Buffalo and San Francisco games. In these two, both road tilts for Dallas, the Bills and Niners beat the Cowboys all over the field for a combined score of 53-20. The ’Boys were never in either one of them. These two games alone were enough for many to jump from the Cowboys bandwagon fueled by the same ol’ “can’t win big games” conditioning.
So how do we feel as we head toward the 3:30 kick on Sunday? I’d argue, in spite of the troublesome outing against Buffalo and San Fran, that you should feel pretty damn good. All three phases of your team are running in top form right now. The defense is Top 5, boasting the league’s interception leader as well as an elite pass rusher. On special teams, your punter and kicker are both Pro Bowlers, and the Top-3 offense is helmed by a quarterback who should win MVP but won’t — spare me, haters; Dak leads every statistical category over Lamar Jackson except for rushing yards — and a wideout in CeeDee Lamb who is setting just about every franchise receiving record. Not only do all of those factors seem like reasons for optimism, but thanks to the Eagles’ hilarious season-capping collapse, the game is also at AT&T, where Dallas has not lost since 2021. We’re sitting pretty high on the rollercoaster right now.
Is it possible the current height is just going to make the inevitable drop that much more terrible? Could it be that a franchise the Cowboys have been fairly historically snakebit by comes to town and pulls off the upset? I suppose. However, McCarthy’s former club will be trying to do it without one of the greatest to ever do it at the quarterback position. I like the Cowboys’ odds of (thanks to Dan Campbell) hosting another playoff game next Sunday, too.