Before the season began, I sat down with a small Pepsi-sponsored schedule of the 2012 season and highlighted the games I felt we'd win. I then went on to explain to friends, coworkers, and anyone who'd listen why I chose what I did.
Here is exactly what I had as my choices, and why:
Week 2: Seattle, Loss. The Cowboys will be coming off an emotional high from beating the Giants, and will struggle against an underrated Seattle team at home.
Week 3: Tampa Bay, Win. This will be a close game but the Cowboys will prevail.
Week 4: Chicago, Loss. Bears' defense & running game too good to overcome.
Week 6: Baltimore, Loss. Normally the Cowboys do well after a bye, but this time they'll struggle against a strong running game.
Week 7: Carolina, Win. Look for our defense to shut down the Carolina passing game.
Week 8: NY Giants, Loss. Divisional game against a team that will be surging mid-season.
It is at this point that I reasoned the general population of Cowboys Nation will begin passing out seppuku swords over our team's inconsistency. I reasoned, however, that the team would be ironing out kinks as it built into a more consistent, coherent team. Consider as evidence to support this theory that over the past 2-3 games, the offensive line has been serviceable, penalties have declined, and throughout the season the defense has played exceptionally consistent.
So what about the rest of the season? Again, keep in mind that ALL of my picks were made before the season began.
Week 9: Atlanta, Win. I believe, as I did in 2009 vs the Saints and game 1 this year, that we will go into the stadium of a "superior" team and hand them their first loss. This win would bolster our confidence and establish the first in a string of upcoming wins.
Week 10: Philadelphia, Win. This team is about 2 losses away from blowing up the staff, so I don't see them beating us after a solid win over Atlanta.
Week 11: Cleveland, Win. I believe this will be a close game. Shouldn't be, but will be. Score will be similar to Carolina.
Week 12: Washington, Win. The Redskin's defense is capable of giving up points, and their offense, while dangerous, can be subdued by a solid pass defense.
Week 13: Philadelphia, Loss. This one could go either way, but the Cowboys are prone to overconfidence and will likely drop one here vs a division rival. It also starts December off, and will have doubters rehashing the "Romo/Cowboys in December" talk.
Week 14: Cincinnati, Win. Another close game, but one that we pull out with a strong defense and a "good enough" offense.
Week 15: Pittsburgh, Loss. Expect a surging Steelers to put on a show.
Week 16: New Orleans, Win. Once again, our defense is able to keep a high powered offense at bay, and our offense takes advantage of a poor defense.
Week 17: Washington, Win. I have us sweeping the Redskins this season (but this is likely the last season we do so for a while). I think the combination of postseason surge & "have their number" history converge to give us a win.
So while it seems improbable to imagine these Cowboys running a 7-2 record going forward, looking at each game I think it's highly possible to do so; however it all starts with a win against Atlanta. I think that had we won against New York with a last second heave into the end zone, that bitter "almost won" taste which will drive this team to long-term success this season would not be there. The turnovers would be glossed over, and ultimately would have led to an 8-8 season. As it is, this team is embarrassed and looking to fix the very correctable mistakes that have led them to this point.
There's no doubt that our defense is something special this year. Teams with strong defenses but struggling offenses have a better chance at success, provided their offense is able to come together and play solid. This team has hung in there and is still capable of surprising us down the stretch. It all starts in Atlanta.