Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys Have Talked All Year, the Time to Walk Has Arrived

"Are you gonna bark all day little doggie? Or are you gonna bite?" - Mr. Blonde "Reservoir Dogs"

Time is up for the Dallas Cowboys. They can't mess around anymore if they really are what they say they are - a playoff team. Despite sitting at 7-4 in the National Football Conference, they are still looking at an uphill climb.

And some pundits are starting to lose sight of that fact.

It's a perfect example of Long John Silver's fantastic article about David Beckham and how the media created a hype Frankenstein from his spare parts.

Some of the experts (or at least Trent Dilfer and ESPN) are beginning to talk about how Dallas has righted the ship and is poised to make the playoff run everyone has been promising. Everyone who proudly reps the Star that is.

And so the first stitch in the monster is complete.

Just last week, those same experts were correctly pointing out that Dallas had a battle on its hands. That the 8-4 record they were sure to have after entering the National Football League's version of Betty Ford - games versus the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks - would be deceiving. That everyone should be careful to remember that and temper accordingly.

This week though, after all the pretty numbers Terrell Owens and the 'pokes put up, you're already seeing that qualification drop. You're already seeing the thousand-mile stare when the pundits talk of the offensive explosion. That look of glittering and blissful delusion you find in people who only see what they believe, but what they believe is not reality.

To a degree, it's warranted because the Cowboys were an irresistible force on Sunday.

But it was against the Niners. And it wasn't the whole game. Not even the majority. Not even close. As Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (two notorious Cowboy-haters) pointed out, Dallas couldn't put lowly SF away and flubbed an easy chance to rest their most valuable starters (read: Tony Romo and his broken pinkie) heading into a short week.

And it's not like San Fran played one of its better games.

This was not a case of a bad team playing up to a superior side's level. For most of the game, it was quite the opposite. Dallas matched 'frisco face-plant for face-plant. But some in the media are already trying to make the public ignore this. Odd considering the almost universal stance only a week ago.

It's about to get worse.

After the certain majesty of Dallas' offense against the lifeless Seahawks, the playoff party should be in full swing. That massacre should be Igor to the media's Dr. Frankenstein, flipping the switch to complete the process. To ensure that, by ignoring its own advice, the media will succeed in forcing the public to do the same.

Reality, though, is that the true test doesn't start until the Cowboys put the final nail in Seattle's coffin.

Dallas will be in a better spot at 8-4, but it will still need more. I would be shocked if a team with less than 10 wins made the postseason in either conference. I don't think I would be alone. So the Cowboys will need at least another two wins in their final four games.

Sounds simple enough. Finishing at a .500 clip for a quarter of the season isn't too much to ask of a playoff team.

Except Dallas gets a long week to prepare for a trip into Pittsburgh and a date with the first-place, 8-3 Steelers. Then the first-place, 10-1 New York Giants come marauding into Dallas for a game that should have the stench of last year's playoff game on it. If they win either of those games, they're a playoff team and it's mulligans all around for the guilty members of the media.

But those are two brutal assignments.

The 'pokes catch a slight break when they face the second-place, 7-4 Baltimore Ravens at home. But that's still a vicious defense and a young, dynamic quarterback. A QB who is improving with every game and will have three more under his belt by that time. That's another tough task before Dallas can finish with a lay-up against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 5-6 team (sorry, a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals is a loss in my book) and a house in disarray.

Even the lay-up isn't exactly that because it's still a division foe, the game is in Philly, and the Eagles have the talent to vastly improve over the next four games.

For Dallas, finishing 10-6 wouldn't be a Herculean effort, but it would impressive. And possibly not enough.

As it stands right now, the Cowboys have to jump the 7-4 Washington Redskins. The 'skins also have the Giants coming to town and must go to Baltimore. But they have the Bungals, the Niners, and Philly at home. Additionally, since they have it now based on NBC's playoff picture, I'm assuming they would still hold the tie-breaker over Dallas at the end of the year.

If that is indeed the case, Dallas is in big trouble because the NFC South will almost certainly ride off with the other Wild Card spot.

The Carolina Panthers are 8-3 with three probable wins on the schedule (New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 8-3 with three probable wins on the schedule (San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Saints). The Atlanta Falcons are 7-4 with three probable wins on the schedule (Chargers, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams) AND seem to hold the tie-breaker over Dallas. Meanwhile, the Saints are a dangerous 6-5 team with a possible Most Valuable Player at QB in Drew Brees.

If either the Panthers or the Bucs stumble, it will probably be against New Orleans.

Chances are the second-place team in the NFC South will have either 11 wins or 10 wins and the tie-breaker over Dallas.

Obviously, this is all speculation and probabilities. There are four games left in the season, which is plenty of time for landscape-altering injuries. Furthermore, anything can happen in the NFL. The meek could rear up and torpedo everyone sitting on top of Dallas without people looking to the skies for the Four Horsemen. And Lord knows what the various wins/losses will do to tie-breaking scenarios?

But it is not wild speculation. It is very likely that Dallas will need 11 wins to control its own postseason fate.

That means beating either Pittsburgh on the road or the Giants at home.

We've heard Tony Romo say Dallas will make the playoffs. We've heard Terrell Owens say Dallas will make the playoffs. We've heard Jerry Jones say Dallas will make the playoffs.

That's a lot of barking.

After one more tune-up against Seattle and the ghosts of a snap gone awry, the Dallas Cowboys will have to show they can bite.

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