David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
With even the most skeptical fans of the 4-5 Cowboys seemingly looking past this week's matchup with the Cleveland Browns, it's time for a dose of reality. The Cleveland Browns are better than any team in the SEC, and that means they should feel mighty confident on Sundays.
The first things that come to mind when I look at this matchup with the Browns are the Cowboys previous two meetings with the Arizona Cardinals. Those games were marked down in the win column in preseason. They were viewed as "gimme" games from the time the schedule was released, up until the final seconds ticked off the clock, leaving Cowboys Nation turned on its collective head. TVs were broken, dogs were kicked, and wives had their beds to themselves.
Now, perhaps those two crushing defeats helped us in securing Tyron Smith and Morris Claiborne, but, at this moment, I'm really not concerned with how a loss today may allow us to land a certain prospect. At any given draft slot, there are numerous players available who are capable of helping the Cowboys improve - or at least that's how I look at things.
Now, onto the meat.
The Trap Game: You probably get the picture after my referencing the two Cardinals games, but it bears repeating. The Cowboys have never been above losing games that fans view as easy victories. I'm not going to go all 'realist' on you and say they usually do it; I'm just saying there's a proven non-0% chance based on past occurrences.
I'm also not going to say the reason the Cowboys may lose this game is due to any sort of mental deficiencies, lack of preparation, or great incompetence on the part of any individual or group. Anybody can lose a football game to an NFL team without it defining their identities. There are at least 53 professional athletes visiting Dallas at this time that would very much like to spoil the Cowboys' playoff hopes, and they ought to be taken seriously.
Romovember and Continuing Trends: I remember seeing this term thrown around last year quite a bit (only to have his December performance exceed his supposed one-month-per-year of excellence). Romo is 20-3 through his career in November, with one of those losses coming to Atlanta just two weeks ago. Is the turning of a calendar page the reason why the Cowboys have been turnover-free the past two games? It's not entirely likely.
Anyway, statistical trends in the NFL come and go with time. A typically consistent aspect of this is that some current trends continue, while others give way. There are two November trends at stake here - Romo's high level of play, and the Cowboys' team success. Will both of these trends continue on Sunday? Maybe not. (And yes, I'm 100% guilty of cherry-picking and contriving that pairing of trends.)
The Injury Bug: Remember that thing called parity? Essentially, it's the result of the current NFL system, which is meant to give way to a certain order of things. Specifically, the best team in the NFL should not be significantly better than the worst team in the NFL, if both teams are fully healthy.
The Cowboys are likely not the best team in the NFL, and the Browns are likely not the worst, so, logically, the difference in their full-strength talent levels should be even smaller. Yes, the Browns' potentially best player, Joe Haden, is a game-time decision, but beyond that they are remarkably healthy. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are missing their best inside linebacker, running back, center and defensive end, not to mention a slew of other starters and key backups. Perhaps the Browns' talent is more evenly spread through their roster than our own, but this sudden talent drought that's stricken our roster may make this game much closer than many expect.
As for my prediction, the Browns have a premier left tackle to match our premier pass rusher, a stud young running back to occupy our stud young inside linebacker, and two substantial deep passing threats to our one serviceable safety. That said, I think this one goes the way of the Bills game from last year.