What's so important about winning the next two games, you may wonder? Well, winning the next two games would put the Cowboys one game above .500 and that's an important place to be if the Cowboys have any postseason ambitions this season.
As a general rule, I don't place a lot of value on historical precedent in sports. Just because a given team or player did something last year or the year before, I don’t necessarily expect a repeat. But sometimes a set of figures present themselves that are just too compelling to ignore.
Winning the next two games would put the Cowboys at 4-3, one game above .500. Last season, the Cowboys hit that mark three times after the first couple of games: at 5-4, 7-6 and 8-7. And they remained in playoff contention up until the very last game, which they lost 14-31 against the Giants.
In previous seasons the Cowboys have frequently been in a position where they were one game above .500 at some point between game five and game nine. The exceptions were in 2007, when the Cowboys stormed to a 12-1 record, and 2010, when the closest the Cowboys came to an even record was after their opening day loss to the Redskins.
|In 5 of 7 last seasons season, Cowboys at one game above .500 at least once|
|In-season record||4-3||4-3||- -
The Cowboys made the playoffs '06, '07 and '09, missed out on the playoffs in '11 and '08 because they lost the final and potentially playoff-clinching game of each of those seasons, and were in contention for a playoff spot in 2005 up until the final weeks as well.
Of course, those numbers may simply be a fluke. But what if they aren’t? Are the Cowboys a team that's always just a scratch above .500, always in contention until late in the season, but hit-and-miss when it comes to making that final push at the end of the year? Playoff contenders, just not much more than that?
A look at last year's playoff participants shows a similarly uneven picture in terms of in-season W/L records. Of the 12 playoff teams last year, five teams were at only one game above .500 at some point after seven or more games:
|2011 Playoff teams and points at which they were one game above .500|
|Seed||AFC||In-season record||NFC||In-season record|
|1||New England (13-3)||2-1||Green Bay (15-1)||1-0|
|2||Baltimore (12-4)||2-1||San Francisco (13-3)||2-1|
|3||Houston (10-6)||4-3||New Orleans (13-3)||2-1|
|4||Denver (8-8)||8-7||New York G (9-7)||8-7|
|5||Pittsburgh (12-4)||3-2||Atlanta (10-6)||4-3|
|6||Cincinnati (9-7)||7-5||Detroit (10-6)||1-0|
In 2010, that number was even higher, with seven teams making the playoffs who had been only one game above .500 at one point after seven or more games, including five of six NFC teams.
For the Cowboys to get over the .500 hump, they'll need to win in Carolina next week and against the Giants at home the week after that. Every playoff team takes a different and often circuitous road to the playoffs. But what all playoff teams have in common (even the teams from the abbreviated 1982 season and the 7-9 Seahawks in 2010) is that at one point in the season, every single playoff team was at least one game above .500. And the earlier you get there (and stay there), the better.
Failing to win the next two games may not mean the end of all postseason dreams for the Cowboys faithful, but the chances that a team that's below .500 after seven games can win out the rest of the season are pretty slim. Winning the next two games would keep the Cowboys in playoff contention, just as they have been for six of the last seven years.
Do you think the Cowboys can win their next two games to go above .500?