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Dallas Cowboys News & Notes: Playoffs, Baby!

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Latest Cowboys headlines: Cowboys gaining confidence after great week of practice; Cowboys hope home success carries over; Could Will McClay remain in Dallas in 2015?

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Tony Romo's spectacular season has fans pushing reset button on Cowboys expectations | Tim Cowlishaw, DMN
Short and sweet:

Tony Romo predicted that his best was ahead of him last summer. We laughed. He was right, and we were dead wrong.

The end.

Stephen Jones: Dallas Cowboys gaining confidence after great week of practice | Dallas Morning News
Stephen Jones is feeling good about the team heading into Sunday’s game.

"Well, we actually feel very, very good about it," he said. "I really think our team’s prepared. You know, we’re as healthy as, you know, you can be at this time of year. Like to have perfect health, but that’s probably not realistic for, not only us, but for anybody.

"Overall, I think we had a great week of practice. I think the guys are focused and zeroed in on the task at hand. And I think we’re kind of gaining confidence as the season goes here. I think our defense is playing some of the best football they’ve played all year. And certainly our offense continues to play well when Tony [Romo] is healthy and in there playing well. We seem to do what we need to do, which is control the ball, run the ball well, and … pick our matchups and do the things we need to do to have long drives and score touchdowns.

Dallas Cowboys hope home success carries over - ESPN Dallas
Trying to replicate their road success, the Cowboys are changing their home schedule to match their road schedule and asked all their players to report to their hotel, the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, by 5 p.m. CT on Saturday, just as they did prior to the 42-7 drubbing of the Colts.

"Just really as much as anything else we’ve recreated the feeling that we have in a road game," Garrett said. "Typically we get to the hotel at 5:00, 5:15. Guys go up to the room, they hang out a little bit, and then they come down for dinner. Sometimes when you’re home you get a little late for whatever reason. So we just felt like it was better to have them over there, spend a little time together, watch the football that’s on and just kind of enjoy the camaraderie."

As Dallas Cowboys Hit Stride, Tony Romo Pursues His Legacy - NYTimes.com
The venerable New York Times writes that Romo has reached a statistical level in which he should be exempt from criticism.

Romo led the N.F.L. with a 113.2 rating this season, and the five players ranked behind him — in order, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees — attest to his elite status.

Romo is the only one on that list without a Super Bowl ring.

Which puts even more pressure on Romo to add a victory to his postseason résumé and etch a legacy that has so far eluded him.

National Analyst: Cowboys should be odds-on favorite to win Super Bowl | DMN
The DMN quotes ESPN's K.C. Joyner on why the Cowboys should be Super Bowl favorites:

"History shows that no team can ever be considered a shoo-in to win the Super Bowl," Joyner wrote. "It also shows that teams playing the best football at the end of the season tend to be the clubs that win Super Bowls.

"Dallas fits that category; it is hitting on nearly all cylinders right now and is built to win games in hostile road conditions. That has to make the Cowboys an odds-on favorite to add another Lombardi trophy to their collection."

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Tony Romo, Cowboys management have learned something valuable about QB's future | David Moore, DMN
Moore writes that with the season Romo has gone through, Romo's playing career looks far from over.

Jones and Romo have maintained he has another 4 or so years. This season had done nothing to renew his energy or desire. Those have always been in place. I do believe it's made him, and management, confident that he can manage his back issues going forward without it compromising his performance.

If Cowboys can’t re-sign DeMarco Murray, 2015 draft could yield a good replacement | Bob Sturm, DMN
It's January and old habits die hard, which is why Sturm is talking draft on the eve of the Cowboys wild card game.

"I think this is the perfect draft for the Cowboys to say goodbye to DeMarco if they wish. I hope they get him to stay, but having said that, the RBs in April are deep. Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Duke Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah, Jay Ajayi, Mike Davis, and TJ Yeldon are all in the mix in the Top 100 picks. This is a good RB draft."

DeMarco Murray is PFT’s offensive player of the year | ProFootballTalk
Figuring out the 2014 offensive player of the year isn't quite as easy as it is on defense. PFT picks Murray:

DeMarco Murray had more than 2,200 yards from scrimmage — 2,261, precisely. And he scored 13 touchdowns. And he suited up for all 16 games, playing the last two after surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand. So the winner is Murray, who ultimately may be defending the award with a new team in 2015.

Could Will McClay remain in Dallas in 2015? - Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas
In his Saturday mailbag, Archer answers a number of reader questions, one of which is on Will McClay's future in Dallas.

I'm a little surprised we haven't seen Will McClay's name linked to any of these personnel gigs yet on an official basis. But that's a good thing for the Cowboys. McClay wants to have the chance to run his own gig, just like about every scout in the business, but he will be smart enough to not just take any job. It has to be the right job.

McClay is in a good situation with the Cowboys. He has a ton of influence on Jerry and Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett. To me, his coaching background really helps him because he can think like one when looking for players. It's easier to say, 'This is a good player.' It's another to say, 'This is a good player but this is why he is or isn't a fit for what we do.' McClay can do that. I think he will be back with the Cowboys in 2015.

How Cowboys were built: Luck, skill and third-round draft picks all major parts | Dallas Morning News
A lot of attention has been given to the Cowboys' recent success with their first-round picks, four of whom made the Pro Bowl this year. Brandon George points out an underappreciated part of how the 2014 Cowboys were built:

The Cowboys have also hit on third-round picks of late. In drafts from 2011 to 2013, they found four starters in running back DeMarco Murray, defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, receiver Terrance Williams and safety J.J. Wilcox.

Final Thoughts: Who Copes With Injury Issues Better? - Bryan Broaddus, DC.com
Broaddus has some encouraging information from the linebacker spot, where Anthony Hitchens is unlikely to play.

Coaches have been extremely pleased with the way James Anderson has stepped in during practice this week, filling in for Anthony Hitchens and offering some nice protection as an experienced veteran linebacker. Joining Anderson on the field this week was Dekoda Watson, who suffered a hamstring injury in the Giants game in November.

This week both Anderson and Watson took snaps with the second defense, and there were times where they were both on the field at the same time. If Hitchens can’t dress against the Lions it is my belief that you would most like see Watson as the swing guy at both outside spots with Cam Lawrence as the backup Mike. Watson is a more experienced special teamer and that is the reason I believe that he dresses before Anderson on Sunday.

Detroit Lions film review: Containing Cowboys' dominant run game - Detroit Free Press
This article argues that to be successful defensively, the Lions first have to stop the run.

If they can slow Murray, it will be up to the pass-rush and secondary to stifle a white-hot passing game led by the duo of Romo and Dez Bryant. The Cowboys are a complete offensive team, but it all starts with the run game and that stretch play. Look for Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to prioritize stopping the run and put the confidence in his secondary against the pass.

The NFL Should Let 14 Teams In The Playoffs Instead of Just 12 | FiveThirtyEight
After yesterday's preseason game in a postseason slot between the Cardinals and Panthers, expanding the playoffs to 14 teams may not sound like such a good idea, but Neil Paine makes a good case anyway:

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The NFL playoffs are a TV ratings bonanza, and it doesn’t seem as though our appetite for football is waning (despite a trying year off the field). Plus, teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans — all of which missed the playoffs this season despite winning records — make a case for creating more playoff spots. (And the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers hosting a home playoff game makes the case for re-seeding the field.)

Paine uses Elo ratings to test some playoff scenarios and concludes that "a 14-team playoff seems to strike the best balance between letting teams settle things on the field and putting the most deserving teams in a position to succeed."

Wefense (we + defense/offense) - The Big Apple
BTB-member Barry Popik maintains a fascinating online etymological dictionary of American words, names, quotations and phrases. One of his latest entries is "Wefense," a term that's been used a lot recently to describe the Cowboys defense. Here's Barry:

"Wefense" (we + defense/offense) was popularized by Rich Bisaccia, the special teams coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002 to 2010. Special teams is neither offense nor defense and consists of players from both of those squads.

"But the wefense came with a great attitude and helped us come out with a win," Bisaccia said after a Tampa Bay game in October 2004.

The special teams term "wefense" has become popular in college football and has been used at Auburn (2010), Vanderbilt (2012) and Penn State (2014).