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Dallas Cowboys, The NFC East, And Inertia

I was listening to ESPN radio Saturday morning (yeah, I should know better, but it is the only sports station I get) and one of the analysts said he still thought that the Philadelphia Eagles were going to win the NFC East. I found this amusing, if a little bit puzzling. I was already of the opinion that the Eagles were on a downward trajectory, but since I am a Dallas Cowboys homer, I have to discount my own judgment about these matters. On Sunday, the Eagles were beaten by the Buffalo Bills as Michael Vick threw four interceptions, which I expected would certainly put a damper on that kind of talk.

Then on Sunday Night Football, Rodney Harrison said it again. He still expects the Eagles to win the NFC East. Apparently he thinks they have overwhelming talent.

This is the time in the NFL season where the preseason inertia starts to give out. It was about this time last year that the analysts starting talking about how much trouble Dallas was in. But there were some who still felt that the Cowboys could turn it around at 1-4. Likewise, a lot of the analysts still can't let go of their opinion that the Eagles were indeed a dream team of sorts, and still wait for them to break out and take over.

I call it inertia to differentiate from momentum. We all know about momentum and how it affects teams. When I talk about inertia, I am referring to opinions, mostly in the media.

This is something I find very interesting as a Cowboys fan, since the national media seems to focus on the Cowboys no matter what their success rate is in a season. And I think I detect a relationship between the amount of press a team gets and the difficulty in changing the inertia that grows around a team.

It is going on all over the NFL. In the same show on ESPN, the subject of the Bills season came up, and the two commentators got into a discussion about whether they were drinking the Bills Kool Aid yet. As one of the BTB Kool Aid connoisseurs, I naturally found this topic fascinating. One of the analysts was not buying it yet, and predicted that the Eagles would win and start their charge for the playoffs. The other was on board with the Bills turning it around, and he picked the game right.

This was, for me, a good example of conflicting levels of inertia. The Bills represent small inertia, in that no one was really paying much attention to them prior to the season. They have become one of the real surprises in the league, and most of the opinion is swinging around to them being for real. It is easy for the inertia to change about Buffalo, because no one was really making a big deal about them not doing well. So changing the tune is no major thing.

The Eagles are clearly big inertia. Before the season started, they were possibly the most talked about team in the NFL. Everyone was oohing and aahing over Vick's $100 million contract and Nnamdi Asomugha's acquisition and how this team was pretty much the automatic qualifier for the Super Bowl. And I mean a lot of people were on this train. Now, the same people seem to be having a very hard time admitting that they misread the situation and failed to look at the entire roster, or take into account the chemistry factor. And so Rodney Harrison can look at a 1-4 team and say he still expects them to win the NFC East. Most of the other "experts" are amazed at how bad it has gone for them. Still a lot of inertia there.

To me, the East is suddenly wide open. The New York Giants stumbled Sunday, and the Washington Redskins already have been beaten once by the Cowboys. The toughest road is ahead of the Eagles, no matter what kind of inertia the media has.

Washington is still fighting a little bad inertia, and that one loss to Dallas. Dallas is fighting last year's collapse and a couple of meltdowns this season. It makes it tough for the media and outside fans to figure out what is going on.

Dallas actually has a strange situation with its inertia. There are many people who think the Cowboys don't have a very good football team (another quote I heard on ESPN). But most are a bit confused by the two wins the Cowboys have. They are the only team to beat the Redskins. And the only team to beat the San Francisco 49ers. Some of the more thoughtful analysts are waiting to see what emerges from the Dallas bye week. The team has a huge test in the New England Patriots. If they pull off a win (which I am actually feeling rather optimistic about), then the inertia is going to change for a lot of people. The team will then, I think, be seen as the most likely winner in the NFC East.

A close loss will not change much. A bad loss, especially if it has any aspects of a meltdown after leading, will lead to the team being totally written off for the time being. The team would still have a decent chance given the rest of the schedule, but for us fans, it would be brutal. No matter how much evidence there is behind it, coverage that is negative and critical of the Cowboys just hurts to see and hear. And you know that any mistake that would contribute in any way to a Dallas loss will be cited as evidence that Tony Romo should be immediately canned.

So, as if we needed it, the media inertia is yet one more reason to pull for a win this Sunday.

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