Without fail, every single year, the complaint is the same.
“The Dallas Cowboys had to play three games in 12 days!”
People love to bring this up at this time of the year because, more often than not since 2014, the Cowboys have played on Thursday Night Football the week after their Thanksgiving Day game meaning that they play three games in the span of 12 days. That is, of course, objectively true.
Here is the thing, though. Way more often than not, every team in the NFL plays three games in 12 days at one point. Yes, really. When teams play on Sunday, again on Sunday the following week, and then on Thursday night themselves, that is three games in the span of 12 days.
Where the Cowboys are uniquely challenged every year is that they have to play four games in the span of 19 days (which again is something that mathematically happens to other teams when they go Sunday to Sunday to Sunday to Thursday), but that they have to do so with back-to-back Thursday games. Unlike every team except for who Dallas plays on their second Thursday night (in this year’s case the New Orleans Saints), every other team gets the mini-bye immediately after the game they play on a short week.
You can make the case that dealing with this challenge of time is an annual setback for the Cowboys, but they have now made their way through it and are officially resting on the aforementioned min-bye. The good news is that they generally play well when they come off of it.
Recent history suggests that the Dallas Cowboys will play well coming out of the mini-bye
As noted, it has been an almost-annual tradition for the Cowboys to play back-to-back Thursday games starting on Thanksgiving Day since 2014. The only time since then that they did not do so was in 2015.
That is six games’ worth of experience and obviously the coaching staff and players have changed since then, but we can partly discern how they are going to play at Washington next week. Generally speaking, they do rather well in this situation.
Dallas Cowboys coming off of the mini-bye
- 2014: Win at Philadelphia Eagles (Dez Bryant’s three touchdowns)
- 2015: N/A
- 2016: Loss at New York Giants (the second loss of the year when chaos broke out)
- 2017: Win at New York Giants (the first time Dallas ever wore white pants with the navy jerseys)
- 2018: Win vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Amari Cooper’s game-winner in overtime)
- 2019: Win vs. Los Angeles Rams (Sean Lee’s swan song)
- 2020: Win at Cincinnati Bengals (Andy Dalton’s revenge!)
The only time in the last seven years that Dallas did not play on the Thursday after Thanksgiving was in 2015; however, they did play on Monday Night Football that week (so an extraordinarily long break from the Thanksgiving game) at Washington when Matt Cassel got the lone win without Tony Romo that year, a game that Dan Bailey won at the very end.
But this is generally a window that the Cowboys - including last year’s team led by Mike McCarthy - flourish in. It isn’t hard to figure out why. Going from Sunday to Thanksgiving to Thursday after is a marathon that necessitates a lot of rest. Just think to yourself how long ago preparations for the Kansas City Chiefs game feels and you will be able to compartmentalize the stretch that they have undergone from a time perspective, let alone factoring all of the injuries and the outbreak among the coaching staff.
This game will actually mark the first time all year that the Cowboys have a rest advantage over their opponent (Washington visits the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday). They played the Minnesota Vikings coming off of their bye, but Minnesota was coming off of theirs. What’s more is that Dallas has actually been on the wrong end of the rest advantage before this season as the Carolina Panthers were coming off of their own Thursday game when Dallas hosted them.
This is a weekend to rest, relax, and enjoy for the Dallas Cowboys. Here’s hoping they use the time to properly prepare for their five games to finish the regular season and more after that.