The Dallas Cowboys sit comfortably at 3-8 just waiting to strike. On Monday night, they will be traveling to Washington to face a Redskins team that has won three of their last five games, which by NFC East standards - is red hot! For Dallas, just winning a football game would be satisfying right now, but a win against the first place Redskins (that just doesn't sound right) would give Cowboys fans a newfound sense of hope that they haven't felt since we all talked about it this time last week. But hey, if nobody wants to pick up the shovel and throw dirt on this Cowboys team, then they might as well climb on out and take a look around.
Should the New York Giants lose to the New York Jets on Sunday, the narrative for Monday night's big NFC East matchup will be how the winner would take a much needed step towards making a run at the division. And this is a likely scenario. The Jets are currently in a dog fight for a wild card spot in the AFC. Four teams are tied at 6-5 with the Jets being one of those teams. This is a big game for them. They just came off a big win against Miami where Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for four touchdowns and the Jets defense only allowed 12 total rushing yards. This is a very balanced Jets team who is in the top 10 in points for offense and defense. The Giants are going to have their hands full.
As much as some fans are ready to close the book on the 2015 season, it's hard to not entertain the idea that the Cowboys would still be right in the thick of the divisional race should they beat the Redskins and the Giants lose. That's reasonable, right?
But then there's the other part of this whole ordeal which involves the Cowboys actually winning some football games. Forget all this talk about winning out. Let's be sensible - that's not going to happen. But just how many wins are needed to take down the East? If the Cowboys can show up in the two games against Washington, they stand a great chance to win any tiebreakers should teams finish with the same record. So the magic number is seven - Dallas wins + Giants losses. (Note: The Redskins are not being used because this entire premise is based on the Cowboys sweeping them)
The Cowboys remaining games are @ Washington, @ Green Bay, New York Jets, @ Buffalo, and Washington. The one-time, much anticipated rematch against the Packers is the best team the Cowboys have left to face (at least based on record), but Green Bay has lost four of their last five games.
The Giants remaining games are the New York Jets, @ Miami, Carolina, @ Minnesota, and Philadelphia. It's pretty clear how good Carolina is, but the Vikings are pretty good too. They have won six of their last seven games and are now in sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
The opportunity is there. But can Dallas pull it off?
The defense is actually playing well as of late. They've gotten a lot better at stopping the run, which has gotten them off the field and helped keep their opponent out of the end zone. Teams aren't scoring much on the Cowboys defense lately. If you take away Cam Newton's yards rushing, the Cowboys defense has allowed only 78 yards a game over the last three weeks. And this is against running backs - Doug Martin and Jonathan Stewart, who are ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively in rushing yards this season, trailing only Adrian Peterson. The linebacker duo of Sean Lee and Rolando McClain had their best game of the season collectively against the Panthers as both of them did a great job of getting stops behind the line of scrimmage. Morris Claiborne should be returning and this should allow Byron Jones to go back to safety.
Of course the biggest obstacle standing in the way is the enigma at the quarterback position. What can the team expect to get out of Matt Cassel? The only good thing about the return of Cassel is the fact that he's already logged a lot of snaps with this offense. Maybe he'll have a better showing this time around?
If someone told you the Cowboys would win four of their remaining five games, would you take it? It might not be quite good enough, but then again - it could do the trick. I would take that deal if I had the choice. Beating the Redskins Monday night is the first step in making this happen.