Let's start off with a bit of positivism. A lot of the articles at the moment are focused on which team would be the biggest challenge for Dallas in the playoffs, but Marcus Mosher looks at three reasons the Cowboys should prevail, including this one.
In order to win the Super Bowl, there needs to be at least one facet of the game that a team excels in. There needs to be a strength that you can rely on game in and game out throughout the playoffs. In 2015, the Broncos relied on their pass-rush. In 2014, it was the Patriots passing game. In 2014, it was the Seattle's pass defense. You get the idea.
For the Cowboys, their trump card is their running game.
Staying with the upbeat messages: Based on their regular season records, a matchup between New England and Dallas seems the most likely possibility. And they are the two most liked and hated franchises in the league (Charlotte Wilder's article explains that).
The Patriots and the Cowboys are the worst of the worst and the best of the best. No matter which camp you fall into, each comes with skyscraper high levels of emotional stakes. No one wouldn't have an opinion about this matchup.
And sports are best when people care. When they care irrationally.
Especially when the reason people are disgusted or devoted is the same. Which is that, in this case, both teams are good. And have been consistently good for long stretches of time historically. They're certainly both very good right now: The Patriots are 14-2. The Cowboys are 13-3. They have not stumbled (though both teams have tripped a few times), nor have they left room for underdogs. Instead, they plowed through their 2016 opponents.
People who don't root for powerhouse teams like the Patriots or the Cowboys naturally turn on them. No one likes to watch the same team win over and over when it's not their team. People turn on the fans who support the teams, too, because they'll inevitably come across as entitled, or as the proud owners of an obnoxious "us against the world" mentality.
While the Cowboys and the Patriots are currently favored to advance to the big game, their paths aren't exactly equal. Right now, it looks like Tom Brady will square off against a team led by either Connor Cook, Brock Osweiler, or Matt Moore. Dak Prescott has somewhat stouter competition to face.
No matter which team advances this weekend to play the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game, the Dallas Cowboys will face one of the league's better quarterbacks.
Cowboys radio play-by-play man and former backup quarterback Babe Laufenberg had a rather insightful take on the team going into the playoffs.
How prepared is this team for the postseason compared to recent Cowboy playoff teams?
Laufenberg: Very well prepared and battle tested. A head coach the players believe in, and solid coordinators on both sides of the ball. I don't count the last game for the Cowboys with so many players rested, but through 15 games, only Dallas and New England were top 5 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. That is rarefied air. Unlike the Cowboys of the 90's who had to get through some great San Francisco and Green Bay teams to advance out of the NFC, there is not a great team they will have to get through. That is not to say that there are not teams capable of beating this current Cowboys team, but if those team's of the 90's did not play a complete football game, the Packers and 49ers were going to win. All I can predict is this is going to be a lot of fun. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
The last time the Cowboys were 13-3 and had a bye week, they wound up with an embarrassing loss to those pesky New York Giants. Jason Garrett was the offensive coordinator then, and he is determined that the team will not let that happen this year.
Now the head coach, Garrett's message to the '16 Cowboys is to use the time to "get refreshed, rejuvenated, maintain your focus. Guys who are banged up, make sure they get their treatment. Guys who want to lift, take care of those responsibilities. And get your eyes forward. We're going to focus on us this week, practice as well as we can, and we're going to figure out who we're going to play and get on to that next week."
Garrett has studied the practice schedules from the past when the Cowboys have been in this situation. He has talked to coaching friends as well but will do what he believes has worked best for this team.
"We're all a product of our experiences and a lot of different experiences with different teams and different situations and you try to learn from all of them," Garrett said. "The biggest thing that we try to do is focus on us and focus on today and that hasn't changed. That has been the message from Day 1 of this season."
The Cowboys have put the bulk of their resources in assembling the offense, and had to build a defense with one real star (Sean Lee) and a bunch of unheralded but eager players. Bob Sturm takes a look at how that plan may all be coming together at just the right time.
Regardless, the Cowboys have a defense. It has warts, but doggone, the athleticism they have built is impressive. I have really enjoyed the work of the scouts and the front office with Rod Marinelli to consistently find players he can use without ever really dedicating a huge investment to his cause. In fact, at times, you almost think he prefers these guys over the guys you pay before they accomplish anything. It reminds me of the cliche "it is hard to be hungry when you are full" that is thrown around about players who are granted the world before they make a play. The Cowboys have almost none of those players on their defense.
Which has led us to this group which seems to be getting better each month.
The fan base is clearly hungry for a return to prominence.
TicketIQ measures prices on 90 percent of resale websites nationwide, including the NFL Ticket Exchange. For the Cowboys, NFL Ticket Exchange makes up 40 percent of the market.
TicketIQ data shows the Cowboys' game is the third-most expensive NFL playoff game the company has tracked in seven years and the most expensive divisional game it has ever tracked.
Despite parting ways with his agent, Randy Gregory still attended the hearing of his appeal for his latest suspension in New York on Tuesday. But if you are hoping for some clarity on the situation, don't.
Now the Cowboys and Gregory have to wait for commissioner Roger Goodell to determine the player's fate.
Gregory is looking at a potential yearlong suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy that occurred this season. He was suspended the first four games of the 2016 season for a violation during his rookie season, and subsequently suspended another 10 games for missing a test in the offseason.
The plan in the last game of the season was plainly to get the team healthier. It looks like it may be paying off, with Morris Claiborne and La'el Collins both getting back into practice this week.
Claiborne said he will go through individual drills this week with the hope of taking part in full practices next week.
"I'm just doing everything in my power that I can do to go out and play," Claiborne said.
Collins wasn't sure he would be able to play, but the Cowboys will start a three-week practice window that could allow him the chance to return to action. He said he was told he needed five months to recover after undergoing surgery in early October.
It looks like the Cowboys will rely on Emmett Cleary as the swing tackle for the playoffs.
While the game didn't affect the standings or the Dallas Cowboys playoff position, Emmett Cleary passed an important test on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Cleary, 6-foot-7 and 313 pounds, proved he could handle left tackle, if needed. He spent 2015 on the New York Giants practice squad as a guard.
The signing of Jonathan Cooper is now official, giving Dallas a chance to take a long look at the former first round draft pick as well as add some possible offensive line depth for the playoff run. After all, when the identity of your team is so based on the offensive line, you can never have too many first round picks there - and maybe the Cowboys can work some coaching magic.
To make room for Cooper on the 53-man roster, the Cowboys waived guard Ryan Seymour, who was promoted from the practice squad before last Sunday's regular-season finale at Philadelphia.