Looking at the numbers, the Cowboys will probably win Sunday and will probably make the playoffs. But the numbers tell two stories: one where statistics point to a probable quick playoff exit and another where each season has its own twists and turns and improbable victor. Sometimes the 6-4 team gets on a roll that continues into the playoffs. Other times the 6-4 team is teetering on the edge of disaster and misses the playoffs altogether.
I'm going to base my research on the last 10 years. In the last 10 years, 45 teams have been 6-4. Of those teams, 31 of them won the next game. Twenty-three of those games were played at home with the home team winning 15 times.
What do these numbers tell us? That there's a pretty good chance the 'Boys qualify for the playoffs and a pretty good chance that they'll lose in the first round or quickly thereafter. Eighteen of the 45 teams that went 6-4 in the last 10 years missed the playoffs. Of the 27 teams that did make the playoffs, 13 lost in their first game. Only two teams went to the Super Bowl and only five teams went to the conference championship game (they are 2-5 in that game).
More fun with numbers after the break.
We've been in this situation before. Dallas has been 6-4 once in the last 10 years. In 2006, Romo had a coming-out party of sorts against the Tampa Bay Bucs, throwing for five touchdowns, and leading us to victory. But this ain't 2006 and we have a much better team which must deal with a much better division. Regardless, some have already written that we'll go 10-6 and will qualify for the playoffs. Mark it down. But we'll have to get hot first. Quick.
So yes, the Cowboys can make it to the postseason, although 8-8 is probably not a playoff qualifier in this year's NFC and 9-7 might not be either.
But in the last 10 years, of the 19 non-division winners that have finished 10-6, 16 have made the postseason. The only teams that missed were the 2003 Dolphins, 2005 Chiefs and last year's Browns.
I would hold off on the predictions. We can lose to the Niners. We can lose to the Seahawks. And there is no guarantee we'll make the playoffs even if we do. There are some historical references that I believe shed light on what a daunting task we will face in the upcoming weeks. Here we'll comb through similar teams with 6-4 records who faced a team with a similar record to the current 49ers.
Look at the 2000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were coming off a successful 11-5 campaign the following year. They started off 3-0 then promptly lost four games in a row. After two key victories, they'd lose a nailbiting game to the Chicago Bears to go 6-5. They'd rebound and win four straight games, eventually going 10-6 and securing a playoff berth. They'd lose in the Wildcard Round to the Eagles where Shaun King's inefficiency and the imbalance from a great defense and inadequate offense would catchup with them.
How 'bout the 2002 N.Y. Giants? They started 3-4 before winning three straight to post a 6-4 record. The Giants would lose on the road to a 3-7 Houston team but they'd eventually recover by winning their last four games to end 10-6. They would qualify for the playoffs and lose a classic playoff game to the 49ers. Their star-studded team would finally collapse under a lack of focus. This would lead to surrendering a 24-point lead to the 49ers in the playoffs, the second biggest comeback in playoff history.
The 2003 Minnesota Vikings? They started 5-4, defeated a 3-7 Detroit team to go 6-4 and finished 9-7. Sounds like something that could happen to us right? A closer look at this season shows something different. This is the year the Vikings actually started 6-0 but quickly fell into a free-for-all losing four in a row and eventually seven of its next ten. They would miss the playoffs that year.
The 2005 Atlanta Falcons started 3-1, won three of four and then lost two to settle at 6-4. They would beat a 4-6 Detroit team at home but stumble and lose the last three games of the year. Two consecutive road games would prove fatal. They'd end 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
Finally, let's end with the 1999 Washington Redskins. After a disappointing 6-10 season the previous year, the Redskins jumped out to a 3-1 start but subsequently went 3-3 including a 1-3 decline that left them at 6-4. A stagnant defense, poor special teams play and turnovers lead to this descent (along with Brad Johnson at the helm I might add). The Redskins lost a stunner to the Eagles in Week 10. This marked the first professional start of Donovan McNabb.
The next week Norv Turner, an embattled coach that had come under criticism, led his team to a 23-13 win at home over the Giants that might have turned their season around. The Redskins went 4-2 over the next six games, including a road win in Week 16 and close road loss to the Colts in Week 15. The Redskins would make the playoffs, win a wildcard game against Detroit and lose a tight divisional playoff game to the Bucs.
These teams shows us a couple of things. A 6-4 team at home usually beats a bad team. Big surprise. A 6-4 team has usually been through the high and lows of the seasons. They either were hot and cooled off or they dug a hole from themselves and they climbed out. They're resilient. A 6-4 team can get hot at the wrong time and overextend itself. A 6-4 team usually doesn't win the Super Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens are the only team to do it in a decade.
That being said, I'm excited about what this 6-4 record brings. If we make a run to the playoffs, I'll be just as proud of a 10-6 record as I would a 13-3 record. If we win 10 games, that means we have either beat the Ravens at home, the Giants at home, the Steelers on the road or the Eagles on the road. We would have survived Romo's injury and Wade would've survived the hot seat. Plus, we would've overcome the various injuries that have plagued us all year.
Now those are accomplishments that would make me hoist the most important number in the air with my index finger.