In the aftermath of Sunday’s Dallas Cowboys loss to the Kansas City Chiefs we have all experienced a number of different emotions. It is understandable if you primarily felt frustration given that the Cowboys played very unlike the team that we have seen for the most part of this season. It is equally understandable if you are disappointed by Sunday’s game but are willing to chalk it up to an aberration of sorts. As it is often said, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
Speaking of extremes, though, the Cowboys enter Thanksgiving Week with only three losses to their name which felt extremely unlikely at season’s beginning. What is interesting about these losses is that two of them have been of the preferred variety.
What is meant by that is if the Cowboys had to lose five games this year, choosing all five AFC teams that they were slated to square off against makes sense.
There is one more AFC game left for Dallas to play and it will happen on Thursday afternoon, but the good news is that these uncommon opponent losses sort of bode well for the rest of the season.
Teams who see a majority of losses to the opposite conference are generally playoff units
While no one is going to exonerate the way that the Cowboys played last week, the reality is that if you could have picked one game for them to win over their next two when they were getting set to play the Atlanta Falcons you should have chosen Atlanta over Kansas City.
The Chiefs are The Chiefs to a lot of people so they wanted the win at Arrowhead Stadium and all of the pomp, circumstance, and fanfare that would have come with that. But we are focused on the long-term here, and tiebreakers within the NFC matter more than anything which means those games take priority.
On the subject of all of this, we decided to take a look at how teams who suffer a majority of losses in a season to the opposing conference have fared. Generally speaking, we are talking about playoff teams here.
At present time the Cowboys have three losses with two of them coming out of conference (67%). They are identified by the grey vertical bar and as indicated, teams who have this percentage of their overall losses occurring outside of the conference make the playoffs over 92% of the time. Interestingly enough, a Cowboys loss to the Raiders on Thanksgiving would up their out-of-conference loss percentage to 75% and an even larger frequency of teams in that category make the playoffs.
It is difficult to talk about how out-of-conference games can be for NFL teams without speaking in football clichés; however, clichés are clichés for a reason, right?
The Cowboys do not play the Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs often given that they are from opposing conference. As far as Dallas is concerned they had not faced the AFC West and those teams since 2017. What’s more is that the most prominent members of the Cowboys coaching staff had not seen them in even longer.
Mike McCarthy last saw the AFC West as the Green Bay Packers head coach in 2015 and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn saw them most recently as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons one year later in 2016 (for what it’s worth the Falcons did play the AFC West last season, but that was after Dan Quinn had been fired by the team). For further perspective, consider that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was a player for the Cowboys last time they saw these two non-conference teams that they have lost to.
Factoring this context into the data that we uncovered, it is fair to not jump to conclusions that the Cowboys are doomed because they lost to these two teams that they haven’t seen in an extremely long time. It doesn’t make the loss any less frustrating, but it is important information to consider in the overall picture.
Obviously the Raiders are also an AFC West team and therefore carry the same qualifiers in this conversation that the Broncos and Chiefs did. For what it’s worth, McCarthy said this week that the Cowboys will do a little bit more study to prepare for a team that they don’t have as much familiarity with.
Sometimes being a bunch of NFC guys can have its disadvantages.