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NFC East: Reversal of Fortunes

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Yep, that's where the Cowboys are now. How things have changed.
Yep, that's where the Cowboys are now. How things have changed.

It feels very good to be a Dallas Cowboys fan right now. The weekend is already off to a great start, thanks to the Seattle Seahawks and their defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles. I was thinking about Schadenfreude earlier, and then I come in and see that OCC has beaten me to it (but I'm not mad, since he saved me the trouble of trying to spell it). That led me to thinking about this little set of numbers:

Team W L
NYG 6 2
PHI 5 3
WAS 4 4
DAL 1 7

Yeah, you know that set of numbers. That was the NFC East when Wade Phillips got fired and Jason Garrett got his chance to prove he was the head coach Dallas needed. But now, consider the standings today.

Team W L
DAL 7 4
NYG 6 5
WAS 4 7
PHI 4 8

What's my point? That's after the jump!

Everybody remembers that Dallas was out of the running when Jerry Jones made the move in 2010. But did you remember that everyone else in the NFC East was still alive for a playoff slot? That both the Giants and the Eagles were looking pretty good? That even the Redskins had hope?

Just thirteen months later, the Cowboys are looking more and more likely to get into the playoffs. Philadelphia is pretty much done, Washington is not far from that, and although the Giants don't look totally dead, their three game losing streak says otherwise.

The division has pretty much reversed itself.

It struck me that this is a perfect illustration of just how transient success and failure can be in the NFL. While some franchises maintain excellence for several years, or stay mired in futility, most of the teams go through frequent changes. Every year, for the past decade and a half, at least five teams get into the playoffs that were sitting at home the previous January. (rabblerousr did the research for me already.) That is a lot of churn, folks.

Most of the movement comes from teams that were in the middle of the pack, that just needed to get things straightened out a bit, or overcome some injuries, or fill a couple of holes in the lineup. But back at midseason 2010, Dallas did not look like that kind of a team. It looked dead in the water, and unlikely to recover for years.

When I remember some of the snide comments being made about the Cowboys (yes, I'm looking at the people from BGN in particular), it makes me glad that I just lurked over there without making any remarks. The Eagles look like a team that is going to take a while to rebuild - just like the Cowboys did.

So how did Dallas come roaring back so fast?

I think the key was that Jerry Jones made the move in midseason. If he had waited until the end of the year, the way the conventional wisdom seems to say you should handle coaching changes, then I don't know that the team would have been able to turn around, particularly with the lockout this year. (Wow, I mentioned the word "lockout" without using a form of the word "sucks" - oh, wait. Never mind.) It's almost certain that a team finishing out the year under Wade would have won no more than four games total, and possibly not even one more for the rest of the year. It would have been a very long offseason. The players would have had very little positive to take from that year. It would have been like it would have been here. Imagine BTB if, say, the team had limped to a 2-14 record? And we had not had the last eight games to evaluate Jason Garrett on? Now project that uncertainty and outright anguish to the players and staff.

As it turns out, the willingness to make a move at the halfway point might have been the best call Jerry has made this century. Or perhaps the luckiest, because I don't know that he foresaw how well it would turn out. JG came in with the logical attitude that the job was his to lose, and put his culture in place. That 5-3 finish stirred the hopes here and had to have helped the outlook of the players, who now had something positive to take into the new season. I really believe that the midseason is the difference between the Cowboys having a real shot at the playoffs instead of being an also ran this year.

I look at the experience here, and then I look at the Fire Andy movement that has taken hold of Philadelphia fans. Reid is in real trouble. It is ironic that the team was to a certain extent handcuffed by their early hype. Up to the Seahawks game, the media was still talking about how they had a chance to make the playoffs, and there are still some slightly delusional souls who act like they still have a chance, but it would basically require five or six other teams to totally collapse while they win out, so they are in reality out of the chase. There was no way for the team to make a move while they still were technically in contention (and after all, they were the Dream Team and the overwhelming favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl). Now, there are only four games left for them, which does not seem like enough to build something for the next year. Besides, I don't know that there is a Jason Garrett waiting in the wings to take over. I would suggest they promote Juan Castillo, (which has already been proposed by someone else here during the threads, so it isn't an original idea), but I don't know that I could be said to have their best interests at heart.

And if the late season collapse continues with the Giants, there will likely be two NFC East coaches that are in danger of losing their job. The Giants are completely unable to do anything during the season because they are still in the hunt - unfortunately, it seems to be turning into a snipe hunt for them. And Tom Coughlin may be losing his team the same way Andy Reid (and a certain Coach Cupcake the year before) lost his.

That means that Washington may actually be the most likely team to turn things around next year. Mike Shanahan is almost certain to get another season or two to show progress, and just based on the churn theory, I would rather expect to see the Redskins make a move.

But you can't really be sure that the Eagles and Giants won't bounce back. They both have some talented players much like Dallas did last year. And this year, a new coach will have the offseason to work and try to get heads turned the right way (and maybe boot a couple of head cases out the door - not that I'm thinking of DeSean Jackson).

So maybe we need to tread lightly with the Schadenfreude. We all hope that Garrett has a workable plan to make this team successful for years to come. But the wrong injury (see: Indianapolis Colts/Suck for Luck) can have horrid consequences. And sometimes, that oddly shaped ball just insists on bouncing the wrong way. Current success does not guarantee future excellence, and besides, the Cowboys haven't won anything yet. So while we enjoy the fall of the Eagles and hope to see the Giants join them, we might want to limit the gloating.

Or at least keep it among ourselves.

You see my point?

Hmm. Not gonna work, is it?

Oh, well. FEAR THE STAR!