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NFC playoff picture: Cowboys win, but did their playoff chances take a hit on Sunday?

If the Cowboys hope to be a playoff team, they better start playing like one.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

If you opened the sports page of your newspaper this morning, you might be asking yourself - why do I still subscribe to the newspaper when there’s the internet? But after that little internal debate, you might find yourself pleased with the Cowboys 30-10 victory over the New York Giants. You might also be happy to learn that the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Seattle Seahawks which now gives Dallas control to jump them in the playoff race. That’s certainly good news. And while a Cowboys win and a loss to one of the big three (Seattle, Atlanta, and Carolina) helps, the overall feel of this weekend’s action has left a sour taste in my mouth.

Why is that, you may be asking.

I want what anyone wants in life - some good food, a warm body to nuzzle up to and binge-watch your favorite TV show, and for the Cowboys season to have 16-game relevance. That’s my end goal every season. Yes, playoffs are great and Super Bowls are greater, but those are special moments and I understand that there are some seasons that it happens and others that it doesn’t. I’m not one of those Super Bowl or bust fans and I also appreciate the weekly excitement to where missing out on the post-season play doesn’t mean the regular season was a disappointment. I’m a big-picture guy and if I feel this team is trending up, then that’s a good deal in my book. But I want 16-game relevance.

Before the season started last year, my good pal and colleague, R.J. Ochoa, enlightened me this one amazing fun fact about the Cowboys former franchise quarterback.

Think about that for a moment. Sure, there were games where Romo was hurt that the Cowboys weren’t in the playoff hunt, but every time he took the field, the Cowboys always had a chance. That is one of the great things about #9 that made him so special to us fans - we always felt like the team had a chance when he was behind center, and that’s because they always did. If there was some advanced technology that could detect the excitement level in fans from watching their team in competitive games, the Cowboys Midi-chlorians levels during the Romo era would be off the charts.

So when I think about what I’m hoping for during the remainder of the season, it’s simple - get me to Week 17 with a chance to advance. That’s it.

For that to happen, the Cowboys need to keep winning football games and get a little help around the league. While the Seahawks part is over and done with, the Cowboys still need Atlanta or Carolina to lose two games. Both of those teams had tough opponents this week facing New Orleans and Minnesota respectively, but neither of those opponents were up to the challenge this week. There will be other chances later, but this was of the best chances to get some help and it didn’t happen. That was disappointing.

What was also disappointing was the fact that the Cowboys and Giants were tied 10-10 midway through the fourth quarter. Yes, the Cowboys would score three unanswered touchdowns and we were all filled with joy, but that can’t change the fact that the first 52 minutes of the game was tough to sit through. The Giants even had the lead 10-3 at the two-minute warning in the first half. How does such a thing happen?

Winning football games aren’t something to take for granted and while it’s good to come away with the win, the Cowboys shouldn’t have had this much of a fit with the Giants, especially when the team’s playoff hopes are at stake. Defensively, they played well. They got caught on a blitz that allowed tight end Evan Engram to get loose for a 35-yard reception that set up the Giants only touchdown, but outside of that - they held strong. The Giants offense wouldn’t have another play over 16 yards during the entire game. Even for a struggling Giants offense, that’s still something to hang your hat on.

But offensively, the team just labored over and over with minimal success for most of the game. The opening possession of the game consisted of a 16-play, 73-yard drive that gave the Cowboys the ball first-and-goal at the four-yard line, but all they came away with was three points. Jason Garrett will say things like, “we just kept plugging away” and sure, they did. The Cowboys kept fighting and eventually the floodgates opened. This is the second-straight game where the Cowboys would score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. That’s how you finish.

On Sunday, the Cowboys touchdowns didn’t result from impressive will-imposing drives that we were accustomed to seeing last year. Instead, they were made possible by one big play. The Giants defense kept rolling the dice with the blitz and Dak Prescott made them pay. The Cowboys would have three huge plays in the game where the receiver caught the ball and ran for days.

It’s not my intent to take anything away from this win, but if you look past the results, you saw an offense that struggled to get points for a great majority of the game. This isn’t the type of performance you’d hope to see from a team that is trying to go on a big run to finish the season strong and sneak into the playoffs. The Oakland Raiders will be more of a handful next week and I guarantee the Seahawks will be even more challenging the week after. The Cowboys aren’t going to win out if this is how they’re going to perform.

The Cool One tweeted this prior to the onslaught, but it still has a lot of relevance.

It was a much needed win and a special shout out to Jacksonville for doing the ‘Boys a solid, but if we are going to get back into the playoff discussion, the Cowboys need to put together a better performance from the offense throughout the game. The good news is - if they can just survive one more game, the offense will receive a nice boost in the return of Ezekiel Elliott.

Here is the NFC playoff picture as it stands today:

NFC East leader: Eagles 11-2

NFC North leader: Vikings 10-3

NFC West leader: Rams 9-4

NFC South leader: Saints 9-4

Wild Card 1: Panthers 9-4

Wild Card 2: Falcons 8-5

In the hunt:

Seahawks 8-5

Lions 7-6

Packers 7-6

Cowboys 7-6

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