Just like last year, the Cowboys entered the 2021 season with one goal in mind: win the Super Bowl. Mike McCarthy has been upfront about that since he arrived, and Dak Prescott has reiterated it a few times along the way. With the Cowboys riding high after obliterating the Falcons and reaching a 7-2 record, those Super Bowl aspirations are looking more and more realistic by the day.
It takes a whole lot of things to go right in order for a team to win a Super Bowl, though. McCarthy knows that better than anyone on this team. His Packers won a Super Bowl in his fifth year on the job, and despite making the playoffs each of the next six seasons after that, he never made it back.
People have used that to suggest McCarthy was a bad coach, as if he was holding Aaron Rodgers back. The fact that Rodgers has been a win away from reaching the Super Bowl each of the last two years and come up short both times should reinforce the fact that getting to the big game is hard enough, and winning is even harder. In fact, only six head coaches this century have coached in a Super Bowl more than once; only two of them, Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, have actually won more than once.
Winning a Super Bowl is no easy feat. It requires top-tier talent at a wide variety of positions, coaching that’s good enough to maximize those talented players and hide the ones who aren’t, the ability for all of these pieces to actually fit together, and also some luck. We don’t like to admit it, but luck is a big factor in reaching the highest level in the NFL.
Just last year, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl after not even appearing in the playoffs for 13 years. A big part of that was the presence of Tom Brady, but an underreported aspect was the fact that Tampa Bay was the healthiest team in the league that year. That’s some good luck. The 2017 Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl and then won with a backup quarterback running the show. That Nick Foles has failed as a starting quarterback in several spots since lends credence to just how lucky that Super Bowl run was.
I bring all of this up because, with ten weeks in the books already in 2021, it sure does seem like the Cowboys are getting really lucky. That doesn’t mean they haven’t earned their wins - they absolutely have - but they’re also benefitting from some lucky draws in other ways.
The best example is with regard to the race for the number one seed in the NFC, and thus securing the first-round bye that’s now only reserved for one team. Last week, when Dallas got embarrassed at home by the Broncos, we pointed out how it was the least damaging to those first-round bye hopes that a loss could have been. It wasn’t a loss in the conference, and both the Packers and Cardinals lost that week as well.
This time around, the Cowboys got a convincing win as they watched the Cardinals (still without injured Kyler Murray), Rams, and Buccaneers all lose by multiple scores. The Packers scraped out an ugly win over the Seahawks as Rodgers returned to the team, but they lost star running back Aaron Jones for a few weeks to injury. They’ll likely be without him for a road game in Minnesota and a home stand against the Rams.
The biggest thing here is the losses that both Tampa Bay and Los Angeles endured. That leaves Green Bay and Arizona as the only other teams with just two losses in the NFC. The Cowboys are currently behind both of them in the standings, but only because they’ve played one less game due to the bye week. They host the Cardinals in Week 17, giving them an opportunity to gain a tiebreaker over that team. And if both Dallas and Green Bay finish the season undefeated in their respective divisions and with just one loss in the conference (an unlikely proposition, but it’s where they both stand now) the Cowboys currently hold a tiebreaker because they’ve had larger point differentials in their wins. In other words, running up the score on Atlanta really did matter.
All of this is to say that the Cowboys essentially control their destiny right now, and it’s because they’ve gotten a bit lucky while stacking up wins. They’ve needed the Buccaneers to lose twice in the last three weeks, and Tampa Bay is currently on a two-game losing streak. They needed the Packers to lose, and they did. The same goes for the Cardinals and Rams. And while Dallas hasn’t been the healthiest team, they haven’t sustained any injuries to guys that are impossible to replace the way they did last year. Of course, they’ll be elated to get players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Tyron Smith back, but they’ve been able to handle the losses they’ve taken.
What we’re seeing right now is the rare combination of an insanely talented team - not a collection of players, but a team - and just about everything going their way so far. As long as this article doesn’t end up completely jinxing them, the Cowboys have everything set up to secure that first-round bye and make a run. Now they just have to capitalize on it. If Sunday’s performance against the Falcons was any indication, they’ve got the killer instinct to do just that.