Week 3 in the NFL is an interesting week, because it is the first week after which the first teams are basically eliminated from playoff contention. Only three times since 1990 ('92, '95 , '98 ) has a team made the playoffs after starting 0-3. Since realignment in 2002, not one of the 69 teams that started the season 0-3 made the playoffs, which means the 0-3 teams (Bears, Browns, Jaguars) can start doing mock drafts.
Week 3 is also interesting for teams like the Cowboys that started the season 1-1, because the third game often points such teams in one or the other direction. Had the Cowboys lost against the Bears and dropped to 1-2, their historic playoff odds would have dropped from 41% to 26%. But with Sunday's win, those odds climbed to 50%. That difference of 34% is the biggest possible swing of playoff odds anywhere in the 16-game regular season.
Since realignment in 2002, 151 teams started the season with two wins and one loss. 76 of those teams (50%) eventually made the playoffs. The table below shows how the playoff odds have developed over the last 14 seasons by W/L from game three through game five.
With the win over the, the moved back into the "green" area in the table above, indicating they have an even or better chance of making the playoffs. To remain in the green, the Cowboys will have to win their next game against the , which would put the Cowboys at 3-1 with a 60% playoff chance, while a loss would drop them to 2-2 and a rather unappetizing playoff chance of 36%.
Very few things go according to plan over the course of an entire season in the NFL, and while the Cowboys are currently basking in the warm and wonderful glow of their 2016 rookie class, they also missed key starters at some of the most critical positions for most or all of the game on Sunday. Tony Romo (QB),(LT), Demarcus Lawrence (RDE), and (CB) were all out for various reasons, add the self-exiled (MLB) and you had some of the most important positions on the team sitting out.
Smith and Scandrick could be ready to go next week, and by Week 5, further reinforcements will arrive in the form of, who will have served his suspension and will join the team just in time to take on the .
With a 2-1 record, the Cowboys remain firmly in contention for a playoff spot, even if they're only ranked second in the NFC East, unlike the 0-3 Bears, eight times since 1966 and did not win the Super Bowl a single time., and , whose seasons, for all intents and purposes, are over. Also, on a little side note, the Eagles started their season 3-0
A large part of the season outlook for the Cowboys depends on how you evaluate yesterday's win. If the two-TD win over the Bears was a sign of things to come, then the Cowboys are still on track to reach their season goals. But if you assume that Sunday's win against a hapless Bears team masked a lot of issues on both offense and defense, then the table above has an ugly message: two more losses in the next two weeks (in San Francisco and against Cincinnati) would drop the Cowboys to 2-3 and their playoff odds to just 22%.
But nobody is planning on that happening.