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The Cowboys' Season Is Over. Dallas Is Still Alive In The NFC East. How Can Both Be True?

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It is all part of the long, strange trip that the 2015 season has been for America's Team.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NFL season makes absolutely no sense for the Dallas Cowboys. It was supposed to be a continuation and even improvement from the playoff run last year. Bringing as many healthy players as possible to the first game was the top priority throughout training camp. But key players started going down from the very beginning, and now the Cowboys carry one of the worst records in the NFL (only the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans are worse).

As a result, there are two schools of thought out there that seem to be completely contradictory but are actually both valid. One is that the season is over for the Cowboys. It likely ended when the losing streak hit seven as Dallas failed to gain a single win without Tony Romo at quarterback, and it was conclusively done once Romo broke his clavicle yet again. Now the Cowboys face the last five games of the NFL season with Matt Cassel at the helm. Cassel is the replacement for Romo not because he was more successful than the now departed Brandon Weeden, but because he did manage to look more like a real NFL quarterback when he was losing. I think. Unlike other teams, the Cowboys have not sorted out how to win with a backup taking snaps, and although it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Cassel may get a win or two before the year is out, it hardly seems to matter on a team that has problems in almost every facet of the game. The issues are not consistent, but instead seem to change from week to week. One game the running backs are piling up big yards, then the next they are stuffed consistently, for instance.

At the same time that things are done for Dallas, they remain in the thick of the race for the NFC East crown. Just look at the records of the dumpster fire that is our division.

NFC East
W
L
T
PCT
PF
PA
STRK
WAS
5
6
0
.455
241
267
W1
NYG
5
6
0
.455
287
273
L2
PHI
4
7
0
.364
243
274
L3
DAL
3
8
0
.273
204
261
L1

Five games to play, and only two games out of a first place tie. Every other team in the division has been almost as bad as the Cowboys. Every time one team has a good win and looks like it may be gaining some momentum, it gets beaten and usually embarrassed the following week. The idea of Dallas stringing wins together and snatching the division title is still valid, since the Cowboys have both games against Washington remaining.

The problem with that idea is that there is absolutely no reason to believe that this edition of the Cowboys is capable of stringing anything resembling winning football games together. They have shown an ability to stay close, and have led in the fourth quarter in close games, but they continue to fall just short. Of course, against the two best teams in the NFL, the New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, they were crushed. There simply is no real evidence that Dallas has more than one or two additional wins in it - and that may be asking a bit much of a team that has been so psychologically knocked around this year.

Even if Cassel manages to get his act together and the coaching staff is able to utilize him better, defending their division crown would likely be a Pyrrhic victory for the Cowboys. Getting into the playoffs means they will be no better than 21st in the draft, instead of in line for a possible top five pick. And getting a playoff game would likely just mean they get slapped around by a team like the Green Bay Packers or the Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card round. In the long run, they would almost certainly be worse off for making an improbable run to the postseason, no matter how satisfying it might be for the team's supporters.

None of this is meant to say that you as a fan should quit rooting for the Cowboys to win every game they play. Tanking is a rather despicable ploy, and not one that actually happens that often. It is just a realistic evaluation of the prospects for the remainder of the season, and why the fact that Dallas is still mathematically alive in the division race is something of a mirage. It is just a very strange year for the Cowboys. It is also bizarre for the NFC East and the league as a whole, as we continue to see officiating ineptitude and injuries ravage rosters everywhere.

Maybe that deal Jerry Jones is reputed to have made with a crossroads demon to win those three Super Bowls is finally coming due for payment. That makes about as much sense as anything about the 2015 season for his team.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB