Peter King of Sports Illustrated released his NFL picks for 2011 and has the Dallas Cowboys finishing 9-7. With that record, the Cowboys finish second in the NFC East behind the 10-6 Eagles and ahead of the 9-7 Giants. King has no love for the Redskins who come in last in the division with a 5-11 record.
With these projections, King stays fairly close to what the Vegas sportsbooks are projecting. Vegas puts the over/under for the Cowboys at 9.0 wins, and the Vegas numbers for the Eagles and Giants only differ by 0.5 wins from King's projections.
For the NFC, King has the Falcons and Lions as the wildcard teams with a 10-6 record, and they join the Eagles, Packers, Saints and Rams as the NFC playoff teams. Predictably, the Eagles do not make the Super Bowl, where King sees the Falcons edging out the Chargers.
Nine wins are clearly emerging as somewhat of a consensus projection for the Cowboys. But what many projections also show is that it's going to be a tight race for a wildcard spot, where a single win more or less could significantly impact the Cowboys playoff chances.
The Football Outsiders Almanac points out that that one of the biggest factors for the Cowboys 6-10 record last year was simple, pure luck. More specifically, the absence of it: the Cowboys went 3-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including an incredible 0-6 start to the season. Winning these types of games, or in other words, being a little bit more lucky in 2011 could easily spell the difference between a playoff spot and another long offseason.