Before the 2011 season, I embarrassed myself by claiming that the Cowboys "weren't just an 8-8 team."
Even watching them go 8-8, however, I kept wondering whether I was right. We hung tough with good teams. We barely lost, in two separate nailbiters, to the eventual Superbowl winners--a team we would have beaten if only one more catch, one more run, one more call had gone the other way. We were measurably getting better at several positions, some of which were limited due to injury (Murray is still one of our most valuable players).
In short, I wondered whether any other 8-8 team was, by any credible argument, as good as the Cowboys.
Fast-forward to this past off-season. We added a whole lot of RKGs to our squad. We have the league's best backup QB, we fixed our broken secondary, and we continued the painful process of a younger, quicker O-line with moves that can only be called an improvement over last year. Murray is back, Lee is stellar, Carter is contributing and Conner is in the wings--all improvements over the greybeards. Spencer is solid, Ware is not regressing, and our D-line (especially with Rat back) is simply not a weakness. Crawford and Johnson are RKGs who will contribute in their time.
And yet here we sit, at 3-3. Behind that record lie a lot of turnovers, points on the board from special teams, a nailbiter loss to the Rams. Behind that record lie two road losses to teams that are almost unbeatable at home (Seattle and Rams). Through the first five games, OCC has shown that we had inarguably the hardest schedule of any team. That may have changed after Carolina, but I doubt it's changed by much. We haven't lost to anyone in our division, and in fact have beaten the division-leading Giants.
Nor are things likely to change. The next two games are against the surging Giants and the still-unbeaten Falcons. I'm going to be really optimistic and assume we win one of those games. By any standard, either win would be quite an accomplishment--either taking out the Falcons, or going 2-0 against the Giants. And yet that win, if indeed we accomplish it, will probably lead us to--you guessed it--a 4-4 record.
Things may get better after that. The next four games see 2 against the Eagles. I see the Eagles working the voodoo and squeaking one of those out. The Browns and the Bengals are both beatable. Maybe the Boys pick up 3 out of 4 there--maybe.
My point is that we could go into December still sitting at .500, even while incrementally improving. We could still be a good team and get beat by a career game from RGIII, or from Brees.
This is a year for parity across the league; good teams are losing games. Any day now, the Cowboys may go on a run and beat several of these teams in a row, taking control of their playoff destiny. But if they keep trading blows, hovering around the 50/50 mark, I wonder--does any other team have quite as much reason to be proud, and hopeful, at the ability to keep slugging? Is there any other team with a .500 record that is quite this good?