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Cowboys big win sparks playoff talk, sets up monster matchup with Washington

One game can change the perspective in the NFL.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

One game is all it takes, apparently. Heading into Sunday’s clash with the Jaguars, the Cowboys were on the edge of losing the season. If, as predicted by many, the Cowboys had lost and gone to 2-4, the stories on possible Jason Garrett replacements would have started in earnest. Dak Prescott’s future would also have been called into question. Winter, indeed, would be coming. Instead, a 40-7 steamrolling of the Jags has the Cowboys right back in the playoff hunt, and predictions of doom and demise have been stored away for at least another week.

That one week reprieve will be put to the test next Sunday as the Cowboys go on the road to meet the division-leading Washington team. The road has been a deathtrap for the Cowboys this season where they have underwhelmed with an 0-3 record. Also, Washington just dispatched a Carolina Panthers team the Cowboys couldn’t handle (although Dallas was on the road for that while Washington was at home).

The Cowboys will be confident, though. That’s the tailwind benefit from a 40-7 thrashing of a team that was supposedly their superior, a team that was widely believed to be one of the best, if not the best, defensive units in the league. That kind of confidence spreads. ESPN argues the idea of the Cowboys winning the NFC East is not an overreaction.

Cowboys will win the NFC East

Dallas scored a total of 83 points in its first five games, then dropped a 40-burger on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. If you saw that coming, I’m picking you up this afternoon and we’re going to Vegas. At 3-3, the Cowboys are tied with the Eagles for second place in the division, just a half-game behind Washington, whom they play next week.

Graziano’s verdict: . If you asked me to pick a team to win this division right now, I’d pick the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles, who got their own offense in gear Thursday night against what used to be the Giants. But it’s not an overreaction to think Dallas can win a knock-down, drag-out NFC East. If you can score on the Jags, you can score on anyone. The key for the Cowboys will be to develop some consistency on offense (and to win a road game), but their passing game isn’t going to be any worse than it was in Weeks 1-5, and here they are.

The Cowboys are back in the hunt, at the very least. They are also back in the hunt in the NFC playoff race in general. They currently sit ninth in the conference, but are just a half game behind the wild card leaders. That path to the playoff is not closed off to them by any means.

The Cowboys biggest issue now is consistency. They have alternated wins and losses, and they have been a bad offensive football team until Sunday. Dallas is not going to throw 40 points up on the board week after week, but if they can improve to a team that averages mid-20’s, they can be a force. Why? Because their defense is clamping down on the scoreboard, and they are just getting better.

At this moment, pre-Monday night game, the Cowboys have the second-best scoring defense in the league (17.2). Second best. They are also fifth in yards allowed per game. With four turnovers in the past two games, their turnover differential is now an even zero. They are tied for fifth in sacks at 18. They now have David Irving back. Yesterday they played without Chidobe Awuzie and the combo of Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were solid. They have been missing Sean Lee but Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have not missed a beat. There is reason to think this defense is going to be a top unit the whole season.

This is the way you think after a 40-7 win pulls your record to even. Everything seems possible, and in reality it is. They have a chance to jump into the division lead next week. You can almost lose sight of those ugly games in earlier weeks. But not totally. This offense is a fragile thing right now. One week does not preclude a return to reprehensible. Consistency only comes by stacking one good week on top of another (shoutout Jason Garrett).

We can dream of turnarounds and playoffs this week. Sunday in Washington, though, won’t be won on hopes and dreams. It will be won on the arm and legs of Dak Prescott. The legs of Ezekiel Elliott. The “always open” Cole Beasley. The surging defense. The “creativity” of Scott Linehan.

In short, just repeat what the Cowboys did on Sunday. Do that, and then we can really start to believe.

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