The 2018 season has almost reached its halfway point, which means we have a pretty good idea of which teams are good this year, which aren’t, and which teams could still go either way.
For the Cowboys, things are not looking great. At 3-4, they face long playoff odds, especially because they are currently two losses behind the Redskins in the division rankings. And unless they find a way to win a lot of their remaining games, this season will be over quicker than many had expected.
So the question is, can the Cowboys engineer a turnaround and not only finish the season with a winning record, but take the division in the process as well? If they continue alternating wins and losses, that’s not going to happen, but with a bye week to figure things out and the addition of new wide receiver Amari Cooper, perhaps the old old truism holds that “it’s not how you start but how you finish.”
To get a better feel for what could be possible over the last nine games, we turn to the trusty Pythagorean Formula and some small-sample-size math.
With the 143 points scored and 123 points allowed by the Cowboys over seven games so far, and factoring in their 3-4 record, the Pythagorean Projection is for 8.2 wins for the 2018 season. That’s not exactly encouraging, but the Cowboys team that plays the next nine games may be different than the team that played the last seven games. But can the Cowboys be good enough over the next nine games?
Like many stats used in football, the Pythagorean is susceptible to sample size issues, so we have to use some caution when interpreting its results. Having said that, let’s look at a couple of splits.
In the first split, we’ll split the season so far and contrast the first three games with the last four.
|Win Projection by 2018 games|
|Games||Points per game||Points Alowed per game||Full season win projection|
The interesting thing here is that the defense has played consistently well in term of points allowed per game, while the offense started off poorly in terms of points scored, but improved over the last four games (even if the results here are boosted by the Jacksonville game).
Still, the win projection here jumps from 5.6 in the first three games to 11.1 over the last four games. And when you consider that if Jason Garrett hadn’t turtled in the Houston and Washington games the Cowboys could have been 4-0 over the last four games, the projection here doesn’t feel so wrong.
Giddy from all the positivity already? Don’t worry, we got you covered. Because even if we apply that 11.1 win projection to the remaining nine games, the formula suggests the Cowboys will go “only” 6-3 over the remainder of the season, thus finishing the season 9-7. And that will probably not be enough for a wildcard spot and may not be enough to take the division from the Redskins either.
On to the next split where we look at the performance by quarter this season:
|Win Projection by Quarters, 2018|
|Quarters||Points For||Points Against||Win Projection|
|4th & OT||51||53||7.6|
Here we have it in black and white: The Cowboys played like a team competing for a top five pick in the draft and like a team competing for the playoffs, often in the same game, which has made being a Cowboys fan an extremely frustrating experience this season. But the performance in the first and third quarters at least gives reason for some hope.
If the Cowboys had played all seven games like they played the first and third quarters of their games this season, the Pythagorean Formula suggests they’d be comfortably leading the NFC East with a 6-1 record. Think about that for a minute.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, NFL games go for four quarters, and for the 2018 team, things unraveled in the second and fourth quarters.
If the Cowboys could maintain their first- and third-quarter performance over an entire game, and have a little Pythagorean luck to go along with it, they could finish the season with a 7-2 record in their next nine games. And that would put them at 10-6 for the season and likely in the playoffs.
But there are very specific issues why the team has not been able to sustain their first-quarter performance over an entire game. And not all of those issues will magically disappear simply because the Cowboys signed Amari Cooper.
We know the Cowboys offense can be an explosive, high-scoring unit. But they need to find a way to do it consistently. The Cowboys also need to figure out what their issues are with the offensive line, but they also have to ask themselves some tough questions about their personnel, scheme, playcalling and anything else that could get them to perform consistently they way they have done in the first and third quarters of games this season. And the bye week may not be enough to get all of that figured out.
And now for the third and final split, where we look at what the Pythagorean Formula suggests for the four NFC East teams - based on each team’s performance over the last four games:
|Win Projection for 2018 based on performance in last 4 games|
|Team||Current Record||Points For||Points Against||Win Projection|
Based on the performance in the last four games, the Pythagorean Projection has the Cowboys slightly ahead of the Redskins, even if the final standings might come down to division or conference tiebreakers.
Of course, all of that depends on whether the performance over the last four games is indicative of anything.
Ultimately though, as we look at the entire 2018 season, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that matters for the Cowboys. But when we look at individual games, they’ve got to find a way to finish the way they started them.