Fact. The Dallas Cowboys, at 4-1, are tied for the best record in the NFL. Only the San Diego Chargers and (blast it) the Philadelphia Eagles have as good a record. For one week, a team that was the subject of criticism and outright ridicule last year is looking down on almost the entire league.
It is only five weeks into the NFL season, and things are certainly liable to change, but just think about that for a moment. 4-1 going into the Seattle Seahawks game, possibly the hardest game of the season, was pretty close to the best case scenario the most optimistic of us had. Even more surprising, if Tony Romo had been a week or two further along in his recovery to start the season and not thrown three interceptions . . .
But let's not go to what might have been. The reality of where the Cowboys are is satisfying enough. Well, satisfying to fans of the team (the ones that want the team to succeed, not the strange cases who claim to be fans but only seem happy when bad things happen to the Star). For many others, it is almost too much to grasp.
Eagles, Chargers ... Believable. What Dallas has done is incredible. RT @RoobCSN: Best record in football: Eagles, Cowboys and Chargers.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 6, 2014
I saw that, and took a little umbrage. Was so little expected of Dallas this season that being on top of the league is seen as incredible?
Well, yeah. Let's review what was said about the Cowboys prior to the start of the winning streak.
(This was written after the loss to the San Francisco 49ers.)
Looking at the Cowboys schedule, it is hard to find any more than three victories up for grabs. The St. Louis Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars certainly look beatable, and it is reasonable to think that the Cowboys can take one of the two games they play against the Washington Redskins. Outside of those games, the Cowboys should be on the wrong side of the betting line in each and every game.
Even the more obscure sports sources were on the bandwagon.
2. Just How Bad Will This Cowboys Defense Be?
By now everyone knows the Cowboys defense is the worst in the NFL. Last season, they ranked dead last in the league and were the third-worst in NFL history. This season they will be playing without Sean Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher. DeMarcus Lawrence will also miss a lot of time. This defensive unit has the potential to be the worst of all time.
A paragon of journalistic integrity (unless that has become an oxymoron in today's media environment) was taken in.
This season's unit is comically bare and the team hasn't won more than eight games since 2009-in large part because of their defense. With a ransacked roster, no back end or starter-quality safeties and a difficult schedule, Dallas very well could be looking at the worst defense in the history of football in 2014.
How could a sister SBN site be so cruel? Oh, wait, it's the Eagles site. Never mind.
As far the rest of the NFC East, it doesn't look so good. Mike Tanier of SportsOnEarth recently reviewed the NFL's front sevens and two familiar teams finished in the bottom five.
At No. 32, the Cowboys' front seven ranks as the worst in the entire NFL.
DMN was not just content with talking about how bad the 'boys would be this season. They had to predict awfulness for three years to come. Well, to be honest, the projection comes from those champions of objectivity and solid analysis at ESPN. But you know someone at DMN couldn't wait to get this up.
The panel of John Clayton, Mel Kiper, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando recently ranked how each NFL team will fare over the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. (It's an Insider article, so you have to be a member to read it.)
They had the Cowboys at 28. Yes, only four teams were worse - Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami and Oakland.
This is kind of a twofer like the previous article, since they bring one of Sports Illustrated's most
notorious respected writers into the argument.
Peter King already had the Cowboys penciled in as one of the worst defensive teams in 2014, and that was before the secondary felt a blow as well, with cornerback Orlando Scandrick now suspended for the first four games of the season.
Since there's little to suggest that the Cowboys have sufficiently replaced these missing pieces, the question is not how bad they'll be compared to other teams this season. It's how bad they'll be historically.
This is just a case of basing expectations for this year solely on what happened last year. Oh, wait, that's what all these are.
"The Dallas Cowboys quite possibly might have the worst defense in NFL history," Tucker told SN video host Sara Jane Harris. "That's not hyperbole, that's not an exaggeration. They had the third worst statistically (ever for yards allowed) last year."
This post at least doesn't limit itself to how bad the defense is going to be. It also includes how that will pressure the offense.
Because of these defections, a bad unit - one that allowed 388 first downs in 2013 (second worst all time behind the 406 given up by the 1981 Colts) - could be even more disastrous in 2014.
And that puts more pressure on Tony Romo, who is 34 and coming off his second back surgery in nine months.
It is amusing (and a bit enraging for some of us) to look back at these solemn prognostications in light of what has actually happened. They illustrate just how little most of the "experts" really know, despite the confident and declarative way they make their predictions. Most of them make the mistake of being almost completely backwards looking, assuming that what was bad in 2013 will continue to be bad in 2014.
The most puzzling part of all was that the various writers seemed to completely ignore the fact that the Cowboys were 8-8 last year, despite the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad job done by the defense. They were one drive, one Kyle Orton interception away from a chance to make the playoffs. One more healthy game for Tony Romo might have done the trick. Yet the view was that Dallas was just the dregs last season. Because the team still had most of the same coaching staff, particularly on defense where the only real change was a shuffle of duties between Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin, nothing was expected to be fixed. And of course, Jerry Jones still runs the team, and everyone knows he is a dictatorial, arbitrary, capricious incompetent who has not done one thing right since he ran off Jimmy Johnson.
That is what so many think, because that is the basic message going out from so many of those august publications and websites referenced. It is hard to wade through the vitriol and superficial "analysis" to see what might really be going on with the team.
But those of us who made the effort thought we saw something going on this season. It was hard to quantify, and we have, after all, been fooled before. Still, it looked like the team was just about to get past that 8-8 wall it kept hitting. And it was not going to take some miracle. Just getting a bunch of small things right, and hopefully keeping some players on the field.
It looks like it is going to pay off after all. Many, like Albert Breer, admit how much the Cowboys have exceeded expectations. Others are just hoping those bold, badly mistaken predictions will quickly be forgotten.
There is still a lot of football left to play. At least now, when someone says they like the Cowboys' chances, everyone doesn't laugh in their face.