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Cowboys lesson learned: Play well, and the road to the playoffs may not be so rough

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Mistakes could kill them, but if they can stop making them, or overcome a few, Dallas could go far.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
Having a quarterback who can take things over late also helps. (Yes, I’m gonna beat that one to death.)
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys have completed the first half of their season with a 5-3 record, following a 37-18 win over the New York Giants. They also sit at 4-0 in the NFC East, which gives them a real leg up on making the playoffs. Obviously, they still need to win most of their remaining games, and most crucially stay ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, who appear to be the only threat in the division.

How achievable is that goal? Once, the back end of the schedule was thought to be very challenging. But with every team having played at least half their season, things don’t look quite as intimidating as they once did.

Disclaimer time: All this is predicated on Good Dallas showing up, and not whatever that was the first time they went to New Jersey to play a team from the Big Apple, or what they demonstrated until late in the second quarter of the latest game. If they start repeating those kinds of errors, or those of the other two games in their losing streak early in the year, then all this can be thrown into the dumpster and set afire.

If they do play up to their potential the rest of the way, as they did from the moment a now famous black cat wandered onto the field, here is a look ahead at what they face, based on where the future opponents now stand.

Week 10 (SNF): Vs Minnesota Vikings

The Vikes are coming off a last second loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, who had Matt Moore subbing for Patrick Mahomes at QB. That was despite getting the only takeaway of the game. While they still have to be respected because of their 6-3 record, they appear to have some real offensive issues. Particularly if you can get a lead on them late.

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has not had a good career facing the Cowboys, with his teams 1-6 against them (albeit all while he was playing for Washington, which hasn’t been good in a while). Minnesota has not beaten a team that currently has a winning record all season. This one is certainly a winnable game for the Cowboys.

Week 11 (Early start): At Detroit Lions

The Lions are sub .500, and also have not beaten a winning team. Fortunately for the Cowboys, who are not so great in cold weather, this one is indoors. The Cowboys have fared well against them of late, with three wins in a row, including the playoff win in 2015. That means that Dak Prescott has never been involved in a loss facing them.

Week 12 (Afternoon start): At New England Patriots

At the start of the season, most of us just figured this was a loss coming, because, Patriots. And the first eight weeks of the season gave us no reason to think differently, as New England rolled, seemingly with little effort, to an 8-0 start.

Then they ran into a buzzsaw against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, and were pretty thoroughly trounced to the tune of 37-20. Their defense, which had been on a record-setting pace, had no answer for Lamar Jackson or the Baltimore running attack, which amassed 210 yards on the ground. Tom Brady suddenly started to look his age.

Going into the game, there was a lot of discussion about who the Pats had run up that dominating start against. It turned out to be pertinent, because almost all were teams that have struggled.

The Cowboys are built well to try and duplicate the way Baltimore won. They have a stud running back in Ezekiel Elliott, and a mobile quarterback, although Prescott is not likely to have the kinds of jaw-dropping runs that Jackson was making. Prescott is unquestionably a better passer, however. Defensively, the Cowboys should be able to produce the kind of pressure that seemed to affect Brady. The addition of his old teammate Michael Bennett will just add to that, based on his very successful first outing with Dallas.

The Patriots are still a dangerous opponent and Bill Belichick is a master at making adjustments when his team hits a snag. This is also going to be outdoors in New England in November. That is not the kind of environment where the Cowboys are comfortable or have been notably successful in the past. We need to hope for mild weather. If not, it will be a very tough game.

Week 13 (Thanksgiving afternoon): Vs Buffalo Bills

The Bills have had a good start to their season, losing only to the Pats and the Eagles. They rebounded from the Eagles loss to notch a win over the woeful Washington team. But Josh Allen is one of the lowest rated quarterbacks in the league according to ESPN’s QBR stat, and has thrown only 10 touchdowns against seven interceptions. This is a team that Dallas has a very good chance of topping during their annual Thanksgiving game, where they usually play well.

Week 14 (TNF): At Chicago Bears

Ugh. A night game, in Chicago, in December. Hope Prescott’s glove experiment is working out.

But the Bears have Mitchell Trubisky leading them, and he has looked pretty bad at times, including the entire first half of their loss to the Eagles, which has them on a four-game losing streak. If the Cowboys can just avoid giving him any Sam Darnold-style gifts, they can certainly win this one. It is another situation where the running game could be crucial, and that should work in Dallas’ favor.

Week 15 (Afternoon start): Vs Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have a winning record, but Jared Goff is not having a great season, again according to ESPN’s QBR. Plus their three most recent wins have come against the Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, and Cincinnati Bengals, all of whom are in contention for top five draft slots. with the latter currently the only winless team in the league. Again, this should be a winnable game. The only drawback is that this would have been a good one to have on the road in that SoCal weather in December, because the next one goes back up north for another one where cold conditions should be a factor.

Week 16 (Afternoon start): At Philadelphia Eagles

Yep, a game that could be for all the marbles in the NFCE takes Dallas to the City of Brotherly Hate with one more risk of cold temperatures and bad weather in an outdoor stadium. And it might be a candidate for flexing to SNF if that is the case. It would be best if the Cowboys could go on a tear before this and have the division locked up, because despite how well Dallas has dominated the Eagles in the Carson Wentz era, this is truly one where the records might not matter.

If this is pretty much for the division and a playoff spot, it is likely to be a nail-biting affair.

Week 17 (Early start): Vs Washington

If it winds up mattering for a playoff spot or seeding, this is a great game to have to wind up the season. Because Washington is a hot mess.

The bottom line for Dallas is that they need to win at least five of the last eight games. That would put them at 10-6, which will likely get them into the postseason as the NFC East winner. Squeeze one more victory out, and it is all but a lock they play into January. While only a couple of these games are overwhelmingly probable wins, none of the rest are out of the question for the Cowboys to come out on top. It will, as said, take a lot more good play than bad. But with the two most recent victories, the Cowboys have shown they can put a good effort on the field. Now they just need to continue that for the remaining eight weeks of the season.