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Hot topic: The Cowboys still have a good chance of making the playoffs - but so what?

It’s gonna take more than just squeaking in to protect a certain job.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There is a growing frustration in fans of the Dallas Cowboys. It is centered around Jason Garrett. When NFL teams hit a rough patch, it is common to pile the blame on the head coach. This, however, is a bit different. Whether it is the evident ire of owner/GM Jerry Jones, or the apparent dismissal of an in-game use of analytics that is seen as central to the rise of the Baltimore Ravens, it is becoming pretty much impossible to find any other solution for the problems of the team other than a change at the top. Garrett seems increasingly out of touch with where the NFL is headed. He was still clearly in the “establish the run” camp until the loss to the Minnesota Vikings forced him to change.

At this point, it would take a massive turnaround and some real success in the playoffs to even open the door for Jones to offer Garrett a new contract. For many, even that would not be enough. It has gotten so bad that there is a surprisingly large contingent of fans that would choose having Garrett fired over playoff success. (H/T to @CowboysNation for these.)

When over a third of the fans would forego getting to the conference championship and nearly a fifth of them would pass on another Lombardi, the discontent is strong with this one. Admittedly, these were hardly scientific polls, but it is still obvious that patience with Garrett has disappeared.

After a 3-5 start last season, the head coach probably was saved by the team finishing the year 7-1 and getting a win in the wild card round of the playoffs. This year, that may not be enough. It all depends on Jones, of course, but it would surprise few if any if he should part ways with the head coach if the team just puts in a token playoff appearance.

That cameo in January is still very likely, because the Cowboys are, for the moment, marginally the least bad team in the NFC East. There is only one other division team that could conceivably claim the automatic spot, the Philadelphia Eagles. They currently trail Dallas by one game.

Here are the remaining schedules for the two contenders.

Remaining schedules

Week Cowboys opponent Eagles opponent
Week Cowboys opponent Eagles opponent
13 Buffalo Bills Miami Dolphins
14 Chicago Bears New York Giants
15 Los Angeles Rams Washington
16 Philadelphia Eagles Dallas Cowboys
17 Washington New York Giants

The Cowboys have a harder slate to play out the season, with this week’s Thanksgiving Day game against the Buffalo Bills the one huge challenge. Outside of them, both the Chicago Bears and the Los Angeles Rams are looking very beatable. Of course, that Bears game is in Chicago in early December, and at night, so it is no gimme. There is a valid chance that the Cowboys could drop a couple of their remaining games, while the Eagles win out (which would include beating the Cowboys in their second meeting), and this all becomes moot, since it would be inconceivable for Jones to bring Garrett back after not getting to the playoffs with this roster.

But let’s say the Cowboys do just enough, including taking down an Eagles team that has looked a bit lost the past couple of weeks, to make the playoffs. If they do, they would get the privilege of hosting a wild card team. There is no way they could get a first round bye at this point. Let’s look at the likely candidates for that opponent, based on the current standings.

I don’t know about you, but that list fairly screams “one and done” to me. From what we have seen over and over this season, the Cowboys just don’t seem capable of beating one of those potential opponents, even in their own house. The Packers and Vikings have already handed them a loss at AT&T Stadium this year.

Even if they win the first playoff game, they get to go on the road to play another one of those teams, or the New Orleans Saints, who have (stop me if you’ve heard this one) already beaten Dallas at their place this season. Road wins in the playoffs just don’t happen very often, especially by the time the second round rolls around. That is why those losses that could have been wins are so damaging for the Cowboys.

The whole idea of making the conference championship seems extremely far-fetched for Dallas. But it isn’t impossible. They could go on an improbable run and pull off a series of upsets. After all, there would absolutely be no case for Eli Manning to enter the Hall of Fame if he and the Giants hadn’t done exactly that. Twice.

So we can at least imagine the Cowboys getting to the NFCCG. Or maybe even winning it. And who knows what would happen if they get to the Super Bowl?

It could happen. And we will wind up stuck with Garrett for at least another season (because all NFL coaching contracts are really one-year deals with guaranteed money added).

Or would we?

Anything short of an appearance in February would, to me, fall short of sufficient reason to bring Garrett back. After watching and writing about this team since the beginning of his tenure, I have come to a conclusion, especially this season.

This team wins despite Garrett, not because of him. Not long ago, that was not true. Dak Prescott’s rookie year was very much due to his head coach, who directly mentored the rookie who was suddenly thrust into the starting role.

It’s not that way now. As my podcast leader Michael Sisemore (find our Brews and the Boys at the SBNation podcast hub) pointed out last episode, the team looks lost at times, especially early in games. The special teams fiascoes fall on him, if for no other reason than he has absolutely failed to fix anything about them. Any thing. ANYTHING! If this team miraculously does get a couple of playoff wins, it would most likely be attributable to the players stepping up, Kellen Moore and Kris Richard coaching their butts off, and maybe some sizable deposits not traceable back to The Star made to the accounts of some referees to not find phantom penalties at crucial moments. I just don’t see what Garrett can do at this point to really make much difference.

Maybe this could become a case of having your success and eating the coach’s job, too. Dallas might get a couple of those difficult wins in January and Jones could still see fit to go in a different direction. This has been a badly bungled season, with far too many issues that point to the coaching. Winning the weakest division in the league and then managing to pull out some improbable victories in the playoffs is not justification for another chance to try to do it all over again.

In any case, just winning the NFCE is not going to cut it. We all want to see the Cowboys win as many games as they can, and go all the way. What we hope for and what we realistically expect are two very different things. Barring a fairy tale run, this is going to end sadly for Garrett, even with a relatively strong finish.