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With 12:26 left in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game between Dallas and Pittsburgh, the Steelers faced a fourth-and-goal from the Dallas one. The Steelers had managed to move the ball 73 yards on a long drive, but now it was do-or-die time for Pittsburgh.
Greg Russell ran off left guard, but Bradie James and Keith Davis stuffed the play. Dallas still had a 13-3 lead at that point and all the momentum one could imagine. If the Cowboys needed to make a statement, that sure looked like one.
Then there were a bunch of other statements:
* The Dallas offense could do nothing at all from that point. The Cowboys made a first down on the ensuing drive after stopping the Steelers, but Dallas could make it no further than its own 18.
* The special teams, which had been pretty good all game, broke down. Santonio Holmes broke a 35-yard return to give Pittsburgh the ball at the Dallas 25.
* Though the defense held the Steelers to a field goal with 7:20 remaining, everything was unwinding. Without their closer in Marion Barber, the Dallas offense went three-and-out. The Dallas defense then could not contain Pittsburgh wideout Nate Washington, who caught two passes for 37 yards to give the Steelers a first-and-goal at the Dallas 6. The Steelers scored when Ben Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller in the left flat, and Miller rammed his way in.
* With the score now tied 13-13, Tony Romo continued to find ways to turn the ball over. He threw a pass that was supposedly intended for Jason Witten, but it was way off course and ended up in the hands of Deshea Townsend. Townsend returned the pick for a touchdown, and now Dallas was down by a touchdown.
Mistakes and Missed Opportunities
Having a 13-3 lead in the fourth quarter probably left the Cowboys surprised. The team had made so many mistakes and missed so many opportunities that it almost felt as if the Cowboys were trailing by three touchdowns. It was only because the Dallas defense played its best game of the season that the Cowboys weren’t down earlier in the game.
* Tony Romo threw an interception on the first series of the game on a play where it appeared as if Romo had a miscommunication with Terrell Owens. Troy Polamalu intercepted the pass, but the Steelers missed a field goal at the end of the drive.
* Twice in the first half, Dallas failed to convert fourth down plays in Pittsbugh territory. The wind was apparently really bad in the first half, so the Cowboys did not risk having Nick Folk attempt a 50-yard kick.
* Dallas recovered two Pittsburgh fumbles in the first half but failed to do anything with the ball on the ensuing drives.
* Tony Romo’s second quarter included a fumble and another interception. The pick set up Pittsburgh’s first field goal of the game.
The Cowboys started playing much better at the end of the first half. The Cowboys moved the ball 49 yards in the final 2:40 to set up a 44-yard field goal by Nick Folk. The Dallas defense continued to play well in the third quarter, and the Dallas offense managed two scoring drives in that quarter. Then came that fateful 12 minutes to end the game.
Bradie James and Tashard Choice played like winners. Choice finished with 166 total yards, representing 57.4% of the Dallas offensive total. James had 11 tackles and a forced fumble. As a whole, the Dallas defense managed five sacks.
How Much Blame Falls on Romo’s Shoulders?
Lots. He was off all game and committed turnovers in three of the four quarters. His touchdown pass to Terrell Owens was a lucky fluke. He missed several receivers today by overthrowing them, and in a few instances, he simply made bad decisions.
Jason Witten tried to take the blame for Romo’s interception near the end of the game. However, Romo made so many other mistakes that he deserves the heat.
What This Loss Means
The loss was simply another blown opportunity for the Cowboys. Atlanta fell to 8-5 by losing to New Orleans today, meaning that Dallas could have taken a one-game lead over the Falcons. Dallas now holds a tiebreaking edge over the Falcons because Dallas is 6-4 in the NFC while Atlanta is 5-4. Both teams will be a game behind the loser of the Buccaneers-Panthers game on Sunday night.
What really hurts about the Dallas loss is that the Eagles and Saints are now back in the playoff picture. Philadelphia (7-5-1) is only a half-game behind Dallas, while New Orleans is only a game behind. The Cowboys play the Eagles in the last game of the season, and it should be very clear that the Eagles in general are a better team in December than the Cowboys.
Until the Cowboys are officially out of the playoff race, every game from this point onward will have a playoff feel to it. If the Cowboys can pull off a win at Pittsburgh in December, it will be the biggest win this franchise has had in many years, especially this late in the season.
The fact that Dallas must play without Pro Bowler Marion Barber has many people doubting whether the Cowboys can pull it off. If DeMarcus Ware ends up being a no-go, the doubt turns much worse.
A few questions:
1. Can the Cowboys’ offensive line, along with tight ends and backs, slow down the Steelers’ pass rush?
Barber isn’t the greatest blocker in the backfield, but he is pretty solid. Tashard Choice is going to have to assume those duties, which puts more pressure on him and more pressure on the linemen.
Roger Staubach throwback jersey, available at NFLShop.com
2. Can Greg Ellis and Anthony Spencer generate pressure, especially if DeMarcus Ware is slowed by his injury or out altogether?
In 11 years with the Cowboys, Ellis has played in very few of these big games. And the team really needs him. If he and Anthony Spencer can cause concerns for the Steelers, it would certainly help with Ware at less than 100%.
3. If Dallas loses to the Steelers, what happens to the Cowboys’ playoff chances?
Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta are all in a very tight race in the NFC South. Carolina and Tampa Bay play on Sunday, while Atlanta plays at New Orleans. The Cowboys could lose to the Steelers but not lose any ground if the Buccaneers and Falcons lose. It would also help if the Ravens could beat the Redskins.
Wins by Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Washington tomorrow, along with a Dallas loss, would make things appear pretty bleak.
4. What happens if Dallas wins?
The Cowboys can improve their position in the NFC with a win. If Tampa Bay loses to Carolina, the Cowboys and Buccaneers would be tied with 9-4 records. Dallas holds the tiebreaker advantage due to the head-to-head win earlier this season. An Atlanta win also puts the Falcons at 9-4 but with a better conference record than Dallas (6-3 to 6-4). Nevertheless, since Atlanta and Tampa Bay are in the same division, Atlanta would be the odd team out according to the tiebreaker rules for three or more teams.
The dream scenario for the Cowboys:
(1) Dallas beats Pittsburgh to improve to 9-4.
(2) New Orleans defeats Atlanta. Atlanta falls to 8-5. New Orleans would still only be 7-6.
(3) Carolina beats Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers fall to 9-4. Dallas has the tiebreaker advantage.
(4) Baltimore beats Washington so that the Redskins fall to 7-6.
Dallas Morning News
Seven of the eight Cowboys staff writers have taken the Steelers to beat the Cowboys. All predict a close game. The lone writer to pick Dallas was Tim MacMahon.
Seven of the eight ESPN writers also picked the Steelers. The only dissenting opinion was from Mark Schlereth.
Here is the preview from the site:
This is an excellent matchup between two of the better teams in the NFL. The Steelers made a statement in New England last week with another dominating defensive performance and a very solid overall offensive effort in which they scored 30 unanswered points. This is a very long week for Dallas to prepare after a decisive win over Seattle on Thanksgiving. Pittsburgh is in very good shape for the postseason and is working on securing the No. 2 seed in the AFC, while Dallas is back in the thick of the NFC wild-card hunt. Of the Cowboys’ four losses, two were with Brad Johnson under center, but Tony Romo (and Dallas’ swagger) has returned. This should be an exceptional football game.
The availability of Ware and Barber was important in Accuscore’s simulations. Without Barber in the lineup, Pittsburgh won 60% of the simulations. Here is the summary, written before the news broke that Barber was out:
Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware are banged up, but expected to play. The Cowboys need both players to play well to win. When the Cowboys win in simulations Barber averages 77 yards and the Cowboys sack Ben Roethlisberger 4.7 times. However, when Barber has under 75 rushing yards the Cowboys winning percentage drops from 44 percent to just 36 percent. If the Cowboys also have less than 3 sacks they only have a 19 percent chance of winning. Ben Roethlisberger is averaging more passing yards per sim than Tony Romo as the Steelers defense is limiting Terrell Owens to under 70 yards per sim. However, if Owens and TE Jason Witten both have over 75 yards receiving and Tony Romo has no more than 1 interception the Cowboys get the slight 51 percent edge in Custom Game Simulations.
Amazingly, WhatIfSports’ predictions showed that even though Barber would be held to under 50 yards rushing, the Cowboys still won 67% of the games. Needless to say, we like WhatIfSports right now.
Twice during the 1990s, the Cowboys traveled to Pittsburgh to open their season against the Steelers. In both instances, Dallas came away with huge wins. However, whereas the 1994 opener marked a new era with head coach Barry Switzer, the 1997 game four seasons later was one of the last highlights of the Switzer regime.
Switzer, of course, took over for Jimmy Johnson after the Cowboys had defeated the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII. Most fans, including this one, feared the absolute worst. The game was also the debut for offensive coordinator Ernie Zambese, who had replaced the departed Norv Turner during the off-season.
The Cowboys’ stars came out shining in Switzer’s regular season debut, as Dallas won 26-9. Emmitt Smith rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown, while Michael Irvin added 139 receiving yards. It showed at that point that little would change on the offensive side of the ball, which gave fans a good reason to exhale.
But it was the defensive performance that had fans most excited. Dallas sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell nine times (yes, 9 times) and held the Steeler offense to 126 total yards. And this was not a weak Pittsburgh team, as the Steelers finished the regular season 12-4 and nearly beat the Chargers to advance to Super Bowl XXIX.
Switzer’s quote after the game:
“It’s a thrill,” said Switzer. “I savored the moment. I know it’s a long season, but this wouldn’t have been as important for Jimmy (Johnson). I told the players yesterday that Ernie (Zampese, offensive coordinator) and I would be very grateful for a win.”
The teams met again in Tempe, Arizona in Super Bowl XXX. Two seasons later, Dallas once again opened the season at Three Rivers Stadium and came away with a big 37-7 win. Free agent receiver Anthony Miller had a touchdown reception for Dallas, and Irvin and Troy Aikman had huge days. The defense held Kordell Stewart to 104 passing yards and forced two Steeler turnovers.
But the win for the Cowboys was little more than a mirage. Emmitt Smith (69 yards on 26 carries) had trouble running the ball consistently, which was a problem he encountered all season. Miller was disappointing as the second receiver and lasted only one season.
Like the 1994 Steelers, the 1997 Pittsburgh team advanced to the AFC Championship game before losing. The 1997 Cowboys, on the other hand, lost their final five games to finish the season at 6-10. Switzer was gone at season’s end.
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Some key differences between the 1994 team and the 1997 team:
* Though the Cowboys (read: Jerry Jones) touted their receiving corps in 1997 as even more talented than the Super Bowl squads, Anthony Miller was not the playmaker that Alvin Harper was. The 1997 Cowboys also missed tight end Jay Novacek and Kevin Williams, as Eric Bjornson and Stepfret Williams were not solid replacements.
* The offensive line for Dallas featured center Clay Shiver, who was one of the worst starting offensive linemen for Dallas during the 1990s. The 1994 squad had an unknown rookie named Larry Allen, but the starter at right tackle then was Derek Kennard.
* The 1994 defensive line featured Charles Haley, while the 1997 line featured Shante Carver (a very poor man’s version of Haley).
* In 1997, Leon Lett was suspended for most of the season. Dallas brought back defensive tackle Tony Casillas (shown below), who had spent the 1994 and 1995 season with the Jets. The 1997 season was his last.
* Switzer and Zampese did not return to Dallas after the 1997, though Zampese was retained in 2000 as an offensive consultant.
When the Cowboys and Steelers of the 1970s became immortalized by the two Super Bowls, the teams were a few years removed from having played each other annually when both teams were members of the NFL. The two teams have faced each other a total of 29 times, and 16 of those games took place during the 1960s.
* On September 24, 1960, the Cowboys hosted the Steelers in the first ever regular season game for the Cowboys. Despite two early touchdown passes by quarterback Eddie LeBaron, the Cowboys could not stop quarterback Bobby Layne, and the Steelers won 35-28.
* One year later, on September 17, 1961, the Cowboys again opened a regular season at home against the Steelers. Pittsburgh held a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but LeBaron replaced Don Meredith and led a comeback. Allen Green kicked a field goal in the final minute as Dallas pulled out a 27-24 win. It was the first win in the history of the Cowboys.
Between 1961 and 1966, the Cowboys and Steelers were both members of the Eastern Conference of the NFL, meaning that the teams played one another twice a year. During this period, the teams split twelve games, with Pittsburgh winning five of the first seven and Dallas winning four of the last five.
In the latter half of the 1960s, the Steelers struggled while the Cowboys developed into one of the league’s best. Between 1966 and 1969, the Cowboys won six straight over the Steelers, which declined from five wins in 1966 to one win in 1969.
During the 1967 season, Dallas traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers at Pitt Stadium. The 1-4 Steelers overcame a 14-7 halftime deficit to take a 21-17 fourth quarter lead, thanks to a touchdown run by quarterback Kent Nix and a TD pass from Nix to J.R. Wilburn.
However, quarterback Craig Morton, who split time with Jerry Rhome that day, hit Lance Rentzel on a long pass late in the game. Rentzel fumbled, but Dan Reeves recovered the ball at the Dallas 6. With 24 seconds left in the game, Morton hit Pettis Norman on a five-yard touchdown pass that gave the Cowboys a 24-21 win.
Here are the highlights of that game:
The Cowboys faced Pittsburgh in December in both 1968 and 1969, and Dallas won both games. The teams faced off in 1972, with Dallas coming away with a 17-13. They did not meet each other again until Super Bowl X, and from that point, a new history began.
* * *
One tidbit about the game shown above: Dallas had to wear its blue jerseys in Pittsburgh in both 1967 and 1969. I am under the impression that the Steelers usually wore their black jerseys at home during those seasons, but they wore white against the Cowboys.
Did you know, incidentally, that there is a Society for Sports Uniforms Research? Yes, a Society for Sports Uniforms Research. That is . . . quite interesting. However, the SSUR’s site did not help me answer the question of why Dallas had to wear blue at Pittsburgh in 1967 and 1969.
* * *
If you missed it, I posted several videos in August featuring a pregame special for Super Bowl X. It shows several Cowboys from the 1970s and is pretty interesting to watch. Here is the link.
Soon after last year’s draft, I got into a bit of a debate with a friend who is a Steeler fan over whether the Cowboys made a mistake by taking Felix Jones instead of Rashard Mendenhall, who was taken by the Steelers. This debate was the latest entry into a long-standing discussion that began with the Cowboys’ 27-13 win over a mediocre Pittsburgh team in 1985. I’m not sure that this debate serves any purpose, but here is a summary.
• The Cowboys hold a 14-12 regular season edge in the series, which dates back to the Cowboys’ very first game in 1960. Add in three Super Bowls, and Dallas has a 15-14 edge.
• Since 1985 (and including the game in 1985), Dallas has gone 5-2 against the Steelers, including four straight between 1991 and 1997.
• Dallas, of course, lost two Super Bowls during the 1970s, a fact that Friend holds over me whenever this debate occurs.
• Neil O’Donnell, of course, helped to give Dallas its fifth Super Bowl title by throwing a couple of passes in the direction of Larry Brown, a fact that I use in reply to point #3.
Since Super Bowl XXX after the 1995 season, the Cowboys and Steelers have only played twice. In 1997, Dallas opened its season by demolishing Pittsburgh 37-7 in a rare regular season game played in August. The blowout was one of the few highlights in a dismal 6-10 season. Seven years later, the Cowboys blew a 20-10 fourth quarter lead to the Steelers early in Ben Roethlisberger’s career, and Pittsburgh won the game 24-20. It was one of the first really bad losses in Bill Parcells’ career in Dallas.
Here is a look at how the two teams have fared overall since playing in Super Bowl XXX (note: these numbers include the years 1996 through 2007):
Overall regular season record: 116-75-1
Playoff appearances: 7
Playoff record: 9-6
Winning seasons: 8/12
Super Bowl titles: 1
Overall regular season record: 96-96
Playoff appearances: 6
Playoff record: 1-6
Winning seasons: 6/12
Super Bowl titles: n/a
Obviously, all of these stats weigh in the Steelers’ favor. My friend argued that the Steelers have proven time and again that they draft better than the Cowboys, and this proved to him that the Mendenhall pick was better than the Jones pick for Dallas. He also argued that Dallas has been generally inferior to the Steelers because Pittsburgh has remained dedicated to developing players from within, while Dallas has relied too heavily on signing free agents.
Frankly, he’s right about the last couple of points. Besides Jerome Bettis, name a player that the Steelers have picked up from another franchise. I know there are a few, but there are not many. Conversely, Dallas has spent draft after draft trying to find defensive players while picking relatively few receivers or other skill players. Moreover, the Steelers have lost a ton of Pro Bowl-caliber players (or close to it) to free agency, but Pittsburgh seems to rebound every single time the team loses one of these players. Consider these losses: Chad Brown, Rod Woodson, Levon Kirkland, Carnell Lake, Jason Gildon, Carlos Emmons, Joey Porter, Mike Vrabel, and Kendrell Bell. Pretty stout.
After considering this, I was nearly ready to concede that the Cowboys should be envious of the Steelers’ drafting prowess, especially when it comes to taking receivers and linebackers. After all, Pittsburgh has drafted the likes of Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, and Antwaan Randle El, and the team has done fairly well with Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, and tight end Heath Miller.
Nevertheless, we know was has happened to Burress lately, with him showing defects even before he shot himself in the leg. Moreover, Randle El hasn’t set the world on fire with Washington and does not appear to be improving.
And to top all of this off, both Mendenhall and Jones both ended up on injured reserve after playing in only a few games a piece, so the debate has stalled for at least this season. In light of the game this weekend, though, let’s take a look at the past few drafts to see how much better the Steelers have been.
Since 1960, the Steelers have selected a total of 70 receivers in the draft. Twenty-four of these receivers developed into starters, and two (Lynn Swann and John Stallworth) have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. By comparison, Dallas has taken 53 receivers during the same time span, with 17 developing into starters and one (Michael Irvin) earning a spot in Canton.
Since 1996, the Steelers have taken a total of 16 receivers in the draft, including Ward, Burress, Randle El, and Holmes. Others include some names you probably don’t remember well: Troy Edwards, Lee Mays, Will Blackwell, Danny Farmer, Jahine Arnold, Malcolm Johnson, Willie Reid, Mike Adams, Chris Taylor, and Fred Gibson. Edwards was not horrible, but the others did very little. Pittsburgh took Texas receiver Limas Sweed in the second round in 2008, but since he has only six receptions this season, the jury is still out on him. (With the Cowboys’ luck, Sweed will eventually outperform another former Longhorn who wore the #4, but that is another matter).
During the same time span, Dallas has drafted a total of 10 receivers, including former college quarterback Isaish Stanback. These picks have produced two starters in Patrick Crayton and Antonio Bryant, along with forgettable players in the form of Stepfret Williams, Zuriel Smith, Wane McGarity, Macey Brooks, MarTay Jenkins, Skyler Green, and DeVeren Johnson.
My conclusion: Pittsburgh’s ability to select receivers is overrated but far superior to what Dallas has shown, especially in the past 13 seasons.
The Steelers have been amazing in their ability to produce linebackers, though the evidence suggests that this is more a matter of player development than drafting ability. The team’s two current studs—James Farrior and James Harrison—were not drafted by Pittsburgh. Farrior was instead acquired from the Jets, while Harrison was originally an undrafted free agent.
Since 1996, the Steelers have taken 16 linebackers in the draft, with seven of them developing into starters. The names include Holmes, Emmons, Porter, Vrabel, Bell, along with Clark Haggans, Larry Foote, and Lawrence Timmons.
Dallas has only picked up a total of eleven linebackers since 1996, and seven of them have developed into starters. The hits (generally speaking): Randall Godfrey, Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen, Bradie James, and DeMarcus Ware. Darren Hambrick was not quite a hit, but he was a starter for four seasons. The jury is still out on Kevin Burnett and Bobby Carpenter, but both have been contributors.
My conclusion: Dallas is at least on par in terms of drafting linebackers but less impressive when it comes to player development in its linebacking corps.
Two wins over two below-average teams have helped the Cowboys move solidly into the top ten in most power rankings lists. In fact, some have Dallas as high as four, though the Cowboys will have to play lights out football in December to retain a ranking that high.
1. Jeremy Green, ESPN Podcast: Cowboys are #7
Green currently ranks Dallas ahead of the Ravens, Jets, and the Falcons, which is a little bit surprising. He has Pittsburgh ranked #3, which isn’t at all surprising.
Note: Scroll to the 00:19:26 mark.[audio:http://podloc.andohs.net/dloadTrack.mp3?prm=1704xhttp://query-origin.andohs.net/8000A6/content-root3.andomedia.com/origin/mp3/espnradio/football_today/football081202.mp3]
2. ESPN NFL Writers: Cowboys are #8
The Cowboys are behind the Buccaneers, the Panthers, the Colts, and the Jets in the ESPN writers’ poll.
The Cowboys are gaining some momentum, but they’re known for December swoons. And a road game in Pittsburgh looms. (MM)
3. Fox Sports: Cowboys are #8
Dallas is also #8 according to Adrian Hasenmayer of Fox Sports, who writes:
The Cowboys look like the team we thought they were at the start of the season before The Talented Mr. Romo hurt his pinky. Dallas has beat up on some NFC West doormats the past two weeks to build some confidence, which they’ll need judging by their remaining schedule — the toughest final four games in the NFL: @PIT (9-3), NYG (11-1), BAL (8-4), @PHI (6-5-1).
4. CBS Sportsline: Cowboys are #7
Pete Prisco has kept Dallas in the #5 spot for the second week in a row.
They seem to be getting it right, but now they face a brutal stretch of games. The first of those is on the road this week at Pittsburgh.
5. NBC Sports: Cowboys are #5
The Cowboys are ranked #5 by both the writers and the fans on NBC Sports’ poll. The crowd (and I mean crowd) at Football Night in America has Dallas ranked #4.
6. NFL.com’s : Cowboys are #4
Vic Carucci moved Dallas up to #4 on his list.
They’ve found their groove again … but keeping it won’t be easy at Heinz Field.
For many years, announcers would remind us that while the Cowboys were good on Thanksgiving Day, they were especially good in the games that followed Thanksgiving. From 1966 until 1984 (not including 1975 or 1977, when Dallas did not host the Thanksgiving Day game), the Cowboys went 16-1 in the games that followed Thanksgiving.
After 1984, though, Dallas has struggled. Since 1985, the Cowboys have managed only a 10-13 record in the games following the Thanksgiving Day game, including a five-game losing streak between 1985 and 1989 and a four-game losing streak between 1997 and 2000. In the past ten seasons, Dallas has gone 4-6 in the games after Thanksgiving.
Here are a few more related notes:
* Dallas has faced Pittsburgh only once in a game after Thanksgiving. On December 7, 1969, ten days after Thanksgiving that year, the Cowboys beat the Steelers 10-7.
* The Cowboys’ biggest win in one of these games was a 52-10 win over the Jets in 1971, which improved the Cowboys’ record to 9-3. It was an important win because Washington at that time had an 8-3-1 record.
* Probably the most exciting win in one of these games came in 2004, when Dallas rallied to beat the Seahawks in a 43-39 thriller.
* The worst loss in one of these games came in 1985, when the Cowboys were demolished by the Cincinnati Bengals 50-24. It was the second time in four games that season that the Cowboys had been blown out, with the first being a 44-0 loss to Chicago.
* In only four games have the Cowboys played the game after Thanksgiving on a day other than Sunday. In 1993, 1999, and 2004, the Cowboys played on Monday night on the week after Thanksgiving, thus giving the Cowboys 11 days off instead of 10. The Cowboys won two of those three games. In 2007, Dallas only got one week off after Thanksgiving because the Cowboys had to play the Packers on the Thursday night after Thanksgiving. Dallas won both that game and the game on the following Sunday.
* * *
For a little bit of a diversion, try this quiz. It asks you a series of questions and then determines which of the coaches in Dallas Cowboys team history you would relate to the most. Here is one result:
|Dallas Cowboys Coach
Your Result: Tom Landry
|Dallas Cowboys Coach
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz
As Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News wrote today, the Cowboys could have used wins on Sunday by the Giants, Packers, Saints, and Chargers. Dallas got no such luck, as three of those four teams lost. Moreover, even though the Giants’ win over Washington helped Dallas in the wildcard, it meant that the NFC East is all but out of reach.
Here are the new NFC rankings (not counting tonight’s game between Chicago and Minnesota):
NFC East leader: N.Y. Giants (11-1). The Giants are pretty much a shoe-in for the NFC East and are probably for the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs.
NFC South leader: Tampa Bay (9-3). The Buccaneers beat the Panthers in week 6 and face Carolina next week. The Cowboys, of course, hold the tiebreaker over the Buccaneers thanks to a week 8 win over Tampa Bay.
NFC West leader: Arizona (7-5): The Cardinals’ loss to the Eagles seriously hurt Arizona’s chance to get the second bye in the NFC.
NFC North leader: Chicago (6-5): The Bears play the Vikings on Sunday evening for the division lead. The second place team in this division has almost no chance of making the playoffs.
Teams in the wildcard hunt:
Current #5 Seed: Carolina (9-3): The Panthers came from behind to beat the Packers to stay even with Tampa Bay. Carolina has a 6-3 conference record, so if the Panthers lose to the Buccaneers next week and the Cowboys beat the Steelers, both teams would be 9-4 with 6-4 conference records.
Current #6 Seed: Atlanta (8-4): The Falcons traveled to San Diego and knocked off the Chargers, improving Atlanta’s record to 8-4. Atlanta has a 5-3 conference record compared with the Cowboys’ 6-4 record, giving Atlanta the slight edge there. The Cowboys have a 2-1 record against common opponents, though, so Dallas still has a chance to beat Atlanta in a tiebreaker.
Dallas (8-4): Forget looking for help from other teams– the Cowboys have to win to make the playoffs. The Cowboys’ hold a head-to-head advantage over the Buccaneers but will have a tough time beating other teams in tiebreakers.
Washington (7-5): The Redskins have started sliding at a bad time for them. Their conference record is now 6-4, with a division record of 2-3. The Redskins have to travel to Baltimore in a tough game next week, but they finish the season with games against the Bengals, Eagles, and 49ers.
Philadelphia (6-5-1): The Eagles are all but out of the race, but with games against Washington and Dallas, Philly could play the role of spoiler. It would be nice for Dallas if the Eagles could beat up a little bit on the Giants next week, but that is doubtful.
* * *
Here are the tiebreaker procedures for determining the wildcard teams:
TO BREAK A TIE FOR THE WILD-CARD TEAM
If it is necessary to break ties to determine the two Wild-Card clubs from each conference, the following steps will be taken.
1. If the tied clubs are from the same division, apply division tie breaker.
2. If the tied clubs are from different divisions, apply the following steps.
1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.
Three or More Clubs
(Note: If two clubs remain tied after third or other clubs are eliminated, tie breaker reverts to step 1 of applicable two-club format.)
1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.
2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in conference games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss
When the first Wild-Card team has been identified, the procedure is repeated to name the second Wild-Card, i.e., eliminate all but the highest-ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. In situations where three or more teams from the same division are involved in the procedure, the original seeding of the teams remains the same for subsequent applications of the tie breaker if the top-ranked team in that division qualifies for a Wild-Card berth.
It has been well-documented that the Cowboys of late have had difficulty during the months of December and January. In fact, during the 2000s, the Cowboys have had their worst December/January record of any decade in team history.
An even more disturbing fact: Dallas has not had better than a .500 record during the months of December and January since going 5-0 in December and January to end the 1993 season.
Here is a look at the overall records for each decade.
September and October
The Cowboys have never had a decade during which they posted below a .500 combined record during the months of September and October.
1960s: 34-31-3 (52.31%)
Best start: 1969 (6-0)
Worst start: 1960 (0-6)
1970s: 52-21 (71.23%)
Best start: 1977 (7-0)
Worst start: 1974 (3-4)
1980s: 44-31 (58.67%)
Best start: 1983 (8-1)
Worst start: 1989 (0-8)
1990s: 51-26 (66.23%)
Best start: 1994, 1995 (7-1)
Worst start: 1990 (3-5)
2000s: 36-30 (54.55%)
Best start: 2007 (6-1)
Worst start: 2001 (2-4)
Overall record (1960-2008): 217-139-3 (60.96%)
Only during the 1960s have the Cowboys recorded a combined record of less than .500 during the month of November. Dallas has gone 8-1 during the past two seasons and 11-2 during the past three.
1960s: 19-22-2 (46.34%)
Best: 1968 (4-1)
Worst: 1960 (0-4)
1970s: 29-14 (67.44%)
1980s: 22-22 (50%)
Best: 1980, 1981 (4-1)
Worst: 1988 (0-4)
1990s: 28-17 (62.22%)
Best: 1992, 1998 (4-1)
Worst: Several (2-2)
2000s: 20-17 (54.05%)
Best: 2007 (5-0)
Worst: 2001 (0-4)
Overall November record (1960-2008): 118-92-2 (56.19%)
December and January
With a 14-23 record, the Cowboys of the 2000s have had the worst record at season’s end (December and January) than in any other decade in team history.
As impressive as the 1970s Cowboys were overall, they were especially impressive at season’s end. They lost only four games all decade during the month of December.
Note: When the league had 14-game schedules and did not have bye weeks, the teams usually only played two or three games during December. Teams now play as many as five games during the months of December and January to end the regular season.
1960s: 14-12-1 (53.85%)
Best: 1965, 1969 (3-0)
Worst: 1961 (0-3)
1970s: 24-4 (85.71%)
Best: Several (3-0)
Worst:1974, 1976 (1-1)
1980s: 13-21 (38.24%)
Best: 1980, 1981 (4-1)
Worst: 1988 (0-4)
1990s: 23-16 (58.97%)
Best: 1993 (5-0)
Worst: 1997 (0-3)
2000s: 14-23 (37.84%)
Best: Several have gone .500, but none had a better record.
Worst: 2002 (0-4)
Overall December/January record (1960-2007): 88-76 (53.66%)
About a month ago, I wrote a post noting that the Cowboys at one time during the 2008 season had the best all-time winning percentage of any team in NFL history. That was just after the Cowboys had lost to the Rams and were about to face Tampa Bay.
A month later, and the Cowboys have a three-game winning streak. Thanks to this streak, the Cowboys currently hold the best all-time winning percentage of any NFL team. I have to note this right now, because if Miami wins on Sunday against the Rams, the Cowboys will fall back into second place. Here is the summary:
1. Dallas Cowboys
Current all-time record: 422-306-6
Winning percentage: .57967
2. Miami Dolphins
Current all-time record: 375-272-4
Winning percentage: .57959
Winning percentage with a win on Sunday vs. Rams: .58024 (376-272-4)
3. Chicago Bears
Current all-time record: 682-496-42
Winning percentage: .57930
Winning percentage with a win on Sunday vs. Vikings: .57966 (684-496-42)
The other franchises in the top 10:
Browns: 475-371-13 (.561)
Packers: 642-509-36 (.557)
Raiders: 403-321-11 (.556)
49ers: 491-401-15 (.550)
Vikings: 391-321-9 (.549)
Giants: 616-507-33 (.548)
Jaguars: 117-102-0 (.534)