Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys Are Going to the Playoffs (I Think I'm Gonna Be Sick)

It ain't easy havin' pals. - Casey Siemaszko, "Young Guns"

If I ever do become a professional writer whose primary arena is sports, I will have many friends and family members to thank. In particular amongst my friends, it will be several fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dallas Cowboys, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees (sorry, no one in Northern California likes Notre Dame). These gentlemen and ladies helped me change my evil, partisan ways.

They forced me to soften the edges of dislike I have for all of the above, to look at the teams objectively.

These are smart people who I would argue with and that posed a problem. If I ever took an unreasonable stance (let's be honest, take - I still can be unreasonable) or malicious tack, they'd call me on it and keep me honest. They'd shred my argument, I'd feel foolish, and lesson learned.

I can just imagine the thoughts that are going through some Cowboy fans' minds right now.

I figure a bunch of you have read some of my work because I'm in the Top Five for the Cowboys' Bleacher Report Community. That means it's no secret I've written several articles about how I think Tony Romo is overrated (first, second, and third). I've written an article about the shadow of doom Terrell Owens always casts. And I've written an article warning about the hype-machine that drives Dallas' reputation as well as its current effects.

Of course, I'm not saying I was unfair or unreasonable in any of those articles.

But let's face it, they don't smack of a deep and abiding love for the Star. Quite obviously, I'm not a fan. The San Francisco 49ers carry my allegiance as a distraction between the real Giants' season starts every April (and is over by June lately). That means I've got several quivers full of bitter barbs as residue from the 1990s and the days when the 'pokes would routinely dispatch my Niners from the playoffs.

But if I'm being fair (and if I want to stay on Dallas' front page), I'd better write something positive because the Cowboys are one of the elite teams in the National Football League. I've been talking about them like they're the Minnesota Vikings.

Whoa, that introduction got away from me.

Anyway, yes, I think the Dallas Cowboys are going to the year.

Just kidding.

This year. I know they have a brutal stretch and don't control their own destiny at the moment. But Dallas is one of the best teams in the league. It gives me no pleasure saying that, but it's the truth. It was the truth before they got Roy Williams.

And they got Roy Williams.

Believe me, I'm not falling prey to the illusion of dominance that the Cowboys created against my Ninnies and the Seattle Seahawks.

As I see it, the National Football Conference East is still the best conference in football. I know the NFC South is stronger by virtue of record. But both the NFC East and South teams face their NFC West counterparts. However, while the NFC East squares off against the rugged American Football Conference North, the NFC South gets a pleasant little romp through the AFC West (better than the NFC version, but not by much).

In my opinion, though Dallas looks up at the second and third place teams from the NFC South, the Cowboys are better.

Of course, Dallas doesn't play anyone it can catch in the standings so that doesn't matter, right? Not necessarily. It still matters because everything is relative.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, and Philadelphia Eagles conspire for a brutal home stretch. Dallas must navigate it well in order to qualify for the postseason, but the 'pokes are capable of running that schedule.

It probably won't happen because Dallas faces its toughest remaining test (Steelers in Pittsburgh) this weekend without Marion Barber. Still, 3-1 is well within reach.

The Giants and Baltimore must come into Dallas and the 'boys will be desperate. The football Giants will not have all that much to play for except keeping Dallas out of the playoffs. When desperation to get yourself in meets preference to keep someone else out, I'll take the former.

Meanwhile, the Ravens will have a rookie quarterback playing the role of Billy Tyne, steering his ship through a perfect storm of NFL adversity - a desperate team, a formidable defense, a panicked home crowd in full throat, and fatigue from a longer-than-usual season. After that, a roadie against an eliminated Eagles team shouldn't be too much to ask even though it's a divisional rival.

I expect Dallas to finish 11-5. Again, everything is relative.

Like I said, Dallas final four is brutal. I also said Dallas is better than the teams it's chasing, specifically the Atlanta Falcons.

The Cowboys are probably better than the Carolina Panthers and are definitely better than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (beat them without Romo). Those teams are 9-3, though. The Falcons are 8-4 and facing a rabid New Orleans Saints team in the Big Easy. That's a rough place to play and it's essentially an elimination game for the 'aints.

Not only that, the ATL features a rookie QB of its own.

The Falcons also face a home date with Tampa and a roadie against the Vikings before finishing with a split-squad in Hotlanta that the St. Louis Rams will be attending.

Unquestionably, that's an easier schedule. But the same team is not playing those eight games. All things being equal, Dallas would be done. All things are not equal though. Dallas is a better team so its tougher road only makes it a fairer fight.

One that I think Dallas will win.

Romo is better than I thought. So is the defense. DeMarcus Ware is a monstrosity and Pacman Jones could be trouble for the other team if he finally gets his act together (and he should be shot if he doesn't; put him and his family out of their misery). Plus, they can pair the aforementioned Roy Williams opposite T.O.

That's a scary tandem if you can keep them happy. Something that may not be possible.

The key though is Tony Romo.

I still say the guy isn't the Most Valuable Player of the NFL until he puts up some wins in the next few weeks. And I still say he's overrated until he wins some meaningful games (again, something he's got the chance to do in the very near future). But he is far more important to that team than I thought.

The Cowboys are still good in his absence; they did post their most impressive victory while he was shelved.

It's just that Dallas is calm when he's taking snaps. And a calm, quieter Dallas is a very dangerous Dallas. For whatever reason, Romo absorbs all the detritus coming from Owens and Pacman and Jerry Jones and all the other nightmares in Big D. Yet, he spews none of his own.

He's like one of those fish you get for fishtanks that eats all the green sludge that builds up on the glass without adding to the mess itself.

And he's more elusive than I thought. In my defense, the offensive line didn't really require it of him until this year (someone explain that, by the way).

So yeah, I think Dallas greases its way into the playoffs. I think the Cowboys probably lose this weekend and then win out. I think Romo learns how to use Williams off of Owens and vice versa. I think that's very bad news. I think Barber comes back strong and Jason Whitten continues to disregard his body at his own peril. I think desperation will carry the day when New York comes calling. I think they beat Baltimore and Philly isn't up to the task of covering both those receivers.

I think someone from the NFC South stumbles, probably Atlanta.

I think that's trouble because, once the Dallas Cowboys are in the playoff door, they're gonna be tough to kick out.

And I think I'm gonna be sick.

No comments: