There has been a lot of speculation regarding Tony Romo, Jason Garrett, and white flags. Mike Shanahan's public declaration that he is playing for next year has spurred much discussion of whether the Cowboys should do the same, seeing as we have the same record. I believe that we can still make a run this year for the following reasons:
1) strength of schedule -- Dallas has thus far played a ludicrously tough schedule. 8 games, 6 of them against opponents with winning records (as of 11/7), 5 of them on the road. We've played 3 of the top 4 teams in the NFL, two of the three on the road. Dallas only played one sub-.500 team, thus far and Of our 5 losses, 4 of them have come against the top 7 teams in the NFL (as has one of our wins). The only loss against a team outside the top 10 came on the road In a notoriously difficult stadium. Most importantly (as we shall see) Dallas has not lost against a team with a losing record.
2) strength of schedule part II -- Dallas plays one team with a winning record in it's last 8 games. They only have 3 road games. Perhaps most significant is that , of those losing teams, the only one that seems like it's heading upward right now is New Orleans. While the early half of the schedule came against a ludicrously tough 44-23 team record, the second half is an almost equally easy 25-40. It is popular to say that a team must play who it plays and strength of schedule should make no difference, but it does, in fact, change things drastically.
3) the team has been bad -- why might this give confidence? Simple: this team is a fingernail, a missed field goal, and a 3rd down stop away from being 6-2 against that murderer's row of a schedule, and they haven't, apart from opening night, played a complete game of football yet. There is way too much randomness in their losses, and against weaker teams, they are capable of overcoming it (see the point above about not yet having lost a game to a .500 or worse team).
4) the team is getting better-- unlike the vast majority of teams on the second half of our schedule, Dallas is slowly learning how to play a football game. Since the bye week, they have one win and three losses against teams that are a combined 20-5 and all three of those losses had the team in a position to win the game. Yes, it is bothersome that Dallas spit the bit on all three occasions, but the fact that Dallas was able to take three such teams right down to the wire indicates that they are, in fact, playing some good football these days. It's reasonable to believe that continuing to do so against the failing eagles, the lost browns, and the apparently giving up redskins should result in a three game streak of victories and a 6-5 record as we turn for the home stretch... Definitely within striking distance of our rivals:
5) The Giants really have it tough --- as tough as our schedule started, the giants must finish with games against Green Bay, @Atlanta, and @Baltimore. If Cincy or New Orleans gives them a real go, they could be in trouble. I'm not going to out and out predict 9-7 for them, but it's far from unthinkable.
6)Romo has not been himself-- for whatever reason, Romo has been a little off most of the year. One of the few valid criticisms of him is that he can have streaks of poor play. He's in one of those now, and it's longer and worse than usual, hampered more by the inconsistency of his receivers, IMO, than by the o-line. But one thing that Romo has always done is snap out of those streaks, and when he does, he usually elevates his play significantly. He's capable of playing nearly perfectly for extended periods, even under extreme duress (see December 2011) and there's no reason to believe he can't return to that form. He has regained his trust in Witten and Austin and seems to be starting to understand that his less reliable receivers can still be very impactful if he uses them correctly (I.e. stop treating Dez like #88 and start using him like #80). Dez and Tree can be back breakers in small doses as vertical threats. Especially Dez. Which leads us to:
7) The team may be significantly more healthy, soon. Murray will come back eventually. Kowalski is back. Dez will get over his hip bruise from the spectacular no-catch against the Giants. All of these things will help the offense find their feet, while the defense shouldn't really be slowed. Which may lead us to
8)2009 all over again.-- many people were comparing the ATL game to the 2009 Saints game. The problem is it was one game too early. In 2009 we lost to the Giants in heartbreaking fashion in a game where we clearly outplayed them. Then we lost a close, must-win game against a top opponent, San Diego, and everyone threw in the towel... everyone but the team (Mike Jenkins famously wore the towel with "we dat" on it). The pattern is repeating. The galvanizing game against New Orleans sparked a 3 win streak, including games against division rivals Philly and Washington, which turned the team around and led to playoff success for the first time this century. Philly and Washington are two of our next three games... And ATL was supposed to be the "win or we're done" game (paralleling, not New Orleans, but San Diego).
As Charlie Waters so famously told me to do, when I was sitting at Texas Stadium, drinking that delicious hot chocolate in freezing weather on 12/16/1979: I've gotta believe in the cowboys.