OK, let’s get this disclaimer out of the way right up front: Yes, the whole Dak Prescott/Tony Romo thing is the hottest topic right now. But we are not going to address that now, except tangentially. We (meaning the staff here at BTB) have addressed this from just about every angle possible, and at the moment, the situation is in a kind of stasis. Romo keeps getting healthier and doing more, but Prescott is still expected to start this week. Wash, rinse, repeat. When that changes, we will be all over it. But for now, let’s look at the next hottest item. After an totally improbable (and for us, immensely enjoyable) 7-1 start, can the Dallas Cowboys continue to win at or near that pace to finish out the season?
There is a growing sense in and around Dallas that this might actually be the case, but outside of the realm of the Star, lingering doubts still persist. These doubts are partly rooted in the belief that Prescott has to hit a real rookie wall at some point, reflect an expectation that more defensive coordinators are going to figure out how to slow the Cowboys down as Jim Schwatz did for three and a half quarters, and perhaps reflect a bit of ignorance of just how effective the Dallas defense has been. But perhaps the biggest argument that the Cowboys are going to fall back towards the rest of the NFC is that they have built that 7-1 mark by playing a bunch of really weak teams.
I touched on this a bit in my Things We Learned post earlier this week, but it really hit home in a quote from OCC’s article on the Cowboys opening as an underdog against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sports books.
"I don’t like this spot at all for the Cowboys," he said. "This team is very fat and happy, winning seven straight and off their most dominating win of the year. This is their second of back-to-back road games, going into Steel Country, playing a very upset Steelers team. No question, the Steelers will bring 100 percent focus and effort against the Cowboys. I’m not that sure you can say the same about the Cowboys." - Peter Childs, risk management supervisor for offshore site Sportsbook.ag
The guys who do the odds for Vegas and other sports gambling operations are very good at making money, but it must be remembered, as OCC explains, that those profits are their real expertise, not understanding the actual dynamics of the sports involved.
As usual, keep in mind that the lines offered by the oddsmakers don't necessarily reflect the actual chances of either team winning the game, as the lines are usually set to encourage betting and to make sure that the money being bet is spread 50/50 over both teams (the key to remaining a profitable bookmaker).
The quote from Childs certainly reflects a total failure to grasp the essential nature of a Jason Garrett-coached team, which is to ignore all the outside noise and bear down on your own performance and effort. To say that the Cowboys are going to develop some detrimental level of complacency is frankly laughable. This team is not only going to keep their heads down and drive ahead, most of them were around for the Great Debacle of 2015. They have too much at stake now, and they have given every indication they know just how easy it would be to let this slip away through letting up.
This also does not take into account the fact that the Steelers are dealing with their own issues. Their starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, left the game last Sunday with an injury, and it is unknown how that will affect them. And he is not the only issue for them.
Steelers' DeAngelo Williams is having his knee evaluated today, DHB has a sprained ankle and Ben Roethlisberger may be limited tomorrow.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 8, 2016
Roethlisberger had a bad game against the Baltimore Ravens last week, with a dismal 67.3 passer rating. And he was all the Steelers had offensively, as they were only able to muster a paltry 36 yards on 18 rushing attempts. There is every indication that Roethlisberger has rushed back from injury to try and save things, something the Cowboys have been spared from. Unless he makes a dramatic recovery, it seems hard to imagine him and the Steelers doing well against what has become one of the stingiest scoring defenses in the league.
Beyond the next game, Dallas doesn’t have much to worry about, either. Right now, the best team left on the schedule outside the NFC East rivals is the Detroit Lions, who are 5-4. (The Minnesota Vikings are 5-3, but seem to be in a tailspin at the moment as Sam Bradford is unable to move the offense well and their highly regarded defense is showing some real cracks.) The Ravens are 4-4, but despite the assertions to the contrary by some of their fans, Joe Flacco is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league by many standards, such as the ratings at Football Outsiders. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are having their annual struggles winning many games. The biggest challenges look to be within the division, and there first run through the NFC East yielded the three closest games of the season, including, of course, the lone loss. But the Cowboys are 2-1 in the division, and it is pretty clear they have the best quarterback/running back combination by far (which is true of the entire league, to be honest). Add in the best offensive line and the stingiest defense, and Dallas has an excellent chance of doing at least as well the second time through the division. The vagaries of the schedule mean that the most dangerous other teams in the NFC, who appear to be the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks, are not going to be a problem before the playoffs.
Once again, we must be cautious of totaling those chickens pre-hatching, but this year’s version of the Cowboys just does not have a glaring weakness. They have superior talent across the board on offense and Rod Marinelli is doing almost magical things with his collection of high-energy defenders. Despite endless attempts to find some dissension on the team, the locker room seems not only united, but flat-out joyous (7-1 records help create that kind of atmosphere). The really amazing thing is that with the still-pending decision on Romo or Prescott, the team may not have a wrong decision they can make.
Dear National Media,— HAPPY HOLLEYDAY (@Mr4thAndLong) November 8, 2016
SHUT. THE. HELL. UP!!!!
Stop talking about "inside the locker room" stuff when you're never in the locker room, EVER!!
The Cowboys have never won more than 13 games in a regular season, and it would only take a 6-2 finish to equal that. Against what looks like a very manageable second half schedule, that looks very much in reach.
Now it is up to Jason Garrett, the staff, and the team to keep things rolling. Right now, you have to feel very good about them - if you are really paying attention.