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Dejectedly looking back at what happened to the 2017 NFL preseason favorites

As it currently stands, many of the preseason favorites - including the Cowboys - are going to spend January on the couch.

The End Of The Summer Holidays Become A Washout Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

A day before the 2017 NFL season kicked off this year, Kevin Skiver of CBS Sports reviewed the 2017 Super Bowl odds for all 32 NFL teams. At the time, the Seahawks (8/1), Packers (10/1), Falcons (12/1), Cowboys (12/1) and Giants (12/1) were the five NFC teams with the best Super Bowl odds.

With one week left to go in the 2017 NFL season, the Packers, Cowboys, and Giants are eliminated from playoff contention, and the Seahawks and Falcons haven't clinched a playoff spot yet.

It's a testament to the unpredictable nature of the NFL that preseason favorites fall from grace due to key injuries (Packers), loss of key players to suspensions (Cowboys), or because they're full of hot air (Giants). In their stead, a new crop of teams has set out to once again confirm the old adage that the playoff field churns by about 50% from year to year: Since the league moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, an average of about six new teams made the NFL playoffs every year.

As it stands today, the Vikings and Eagles will be the top NFC seeds, while many of the preseason favorites are already planning their January holidays. Here's a look at the current playoff picture and how that compares to the preseason Super Bowl odds:

Seed Team W/L Record Preseason Super Bowl Odds
1 Eagles 12-2 40-1
2 Vikings 12-3 28-1
3 Rams 11-4 150-1
4 Saints 11-4 40-1
WC 1 Panthers 11-4 28-1
WC 2 Falcons 9-6 12-1

Anything can happen in the NFL. Every new NFL season is always a new chance for teams that fell short of the playoffs the season before. The NFL is intrinsically designed to be a parity-driven league; the draft, revenue sharing, the salary cap, compensatory draft picks, all the way through the schedule; everything about the NFL is designed so that every team from every market has a legitimate opportunity to compete year-in and year-out.

The question for the Cowboys now is what type of team they are. Are they an intrinsically 8-8 team with the occasional swing in either direction - which is exactly what the parity-driven NFL is designed for - or are 2017 and 2015 the outliers that confirm the 2014 and 2016 norms?

One way of getting a better feel for which year might have been the outlier is to look at the team's points per game, which are summarized in the table below.

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
W/L Record 8-8 8-8 8-8 12-4 4-12 13-3 8-7
Points For 23.1 23.5 27.9 29.2 17.6 26.3 23.2
Points Allowed 21.7 25.0 27.0 22.0 23.1 19.1 22.1
Scoring Differential +2.4 -1.5 +0.9 +7.2 -5.5 +7.2 +1.1

Over the last seven years, the Cowboys have been a middling team in terms of points differential and winning record, with 2014 and and 2016 the two positive exceptions. The numbers here suggests that at their core, the Cowboys are an average team, with average talent, and average coaching.

And as we dejectedly watch a season come to a close that had so much promise (or hype?) early on, we can only pin our hopes on a successful offseason that will allow the Cowboys to make the push in 2018 that we had all hoped would happen in 2017.

Because if nothing else, we know that there will most likely be three new NFC teams in the playoffs next year. And why shouldn't the Cowboys be one of those teams?

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