Even with a relatively short 16-game regular season, it is virtually impossible to go through an NFL season undefeated. There are only two teams in league history that finished the regular season without losing a single game. The 1972 Dolphins did it (on a 14-game schedule) and the 2007 Patriots did it. That's it.
The Cowboys lost yesterday. It may have been an unexpected loss, it may have been an unfortunate loss, it may even have been an avoidable loss, but at some point the Cowboys were going to lose games. And not just one.
But instead of declaring the season over after the first loss of the season and moving on to the latest mock drafts, let's instead look at where the Cowboys currently stand in terms of their playoff chances.
Since realignment in 2002, 145 teams started the season with two wins and one loss. 74 of those teams (51%) eventually made the playoffs. The table below shows how the playoff odds have developed over the last 13 seasons by W/L from game three through game five.
Despite yesterday's loss, the Cowboys still have an even chance of making the playoffs, and they remain in the "green" area in the table above. To remain in the green, the Cowboys will have to win their next game against the Saints, who may be playing without Drew Brees. That would put the Cowboys at 3-1 with a 60% playoff chance, while a loss would drop them to 2-2 with a rather unappetizing playoff chance of 36%.
By Week 5, reinforcements will arrive in the form of Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain, who will both have served their suspensions and join the team just in time to take on the Patriots.
Very few things go according to plan over the course of an entire season in the NFL, and not much has gone according to plan for the Cowboys so far this this season. Yet they remain firmly in contention for a playoff spot, unlike the 0-3 Ravens, Lions, Saints, and Bears, whose seasons, for all intents and purposes, are over.
However, a large part of the season outlook for the Cowboys depends on how you evaluate yesterday's loss. If the loss was a one off, then the Cowboys are still on track to reach their season goals. But if you assume that their loss to the Falcons is indicative of bigger issues on both offense and defense, then the table above has an ugly message: two more losses in the next two weeks (in New Orleans and against New England) would drop the Cowboys to 2-3 and their playoff odds to just 22%. And with the injury situation the way it is, those odds may be just a little bit too much for the Cowboys to overcome.