It has been a few days since the Dallas Cowboys successfully defeated the Los Angeles Chargers, a victory that should be considered the highest-quality win they have experienced with Mike McCarthy as their head coach.
Winning in Los Angeles seemed difficult at best when they were facing the reality of trying to do it without the likes of Michael Gallup, La’el Collins, Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Donovan Wilson, and Ty Nsekhe.
The Cowboys prevailed and did so against a very good team in the Chargers, one that many believe will have a lot of success this year. It feels safe to say that Justin Herbert’s squad will experience a lot of wins themselves in 2021. In fact they are very likely going to finish well above .500 and earn one of the playoff spots in the AFC.
Assuming that this does wind up being the case, then the Cowboys broke a streak that went on far too long last Sunday.
The Dallas Cowboys may have just broken an important streak with their win against the Chargers
For the purposes of the rest of this conversation, we all have to assume that the Chargers are going to finish the season above .500. Again, this feels rather likely.
Since we have all agreed (I’m taking the fact that you have made it to this point in the article) to operate under this assumption then the Cowboys have just done something that they have not done in a very long time - beat a team that finishes the season with an above-.500 record.
Prior to last Sunday’s win against the Chargers, the last time that the Cowboys defeated a team that finished the respective season with a positive record was in Week 15 of 2019 when they took down another Los Angeles team in the Rams. With the help of BTB’s Aidan Davis, we took a look at how the Cowboys have fared against teams that finish seasons above .500 since all the way back in 2010 and shockingly (to no one) this has been an issue of theirs for a while.
For the most part over the last decade the Cowboys have disappointed against teams that were the best in the NFL for that particular season. It is no surprise to see that the 2014 and 2016 seasons saw them have a lot of success in this capacity, but interestingly even during their last division-winning season in 2018, they fell below the average of playoff teams for that year.
Some teams wind up playing harder schedules and obviously do not have as many opportunities to play against teams that go on to finish above .500, but the fact that the Cowboys have done so poorly in this regard for a decade now is disappointing and part of the culture change that fans are hoping began with last week’s win at SoFi Stadium.
While the Cowboys’ last win against a team that fits this requirement came against the Rams back in 2019, it is important that while LA finished above .500 that they weren’t even a playoff team that year. If we are moving the goalposts towards identifying the last time the Cowboys defeated a team that wound up making the playoffs we have to go back to their 2019 win against Philadelphia, that was all the way back on October 20th of that year. For perspective that is the night that Dak Prescott’s hip routine became a national sensation.
Obviously the Eagles play in the NFC East which is a division that isn’t exactly regarded as one of the best in the NFL. If we adjust the parameters of the conversation further to identify the last time that Dallas beat a non-NFC East team that wound up making the playoffs, we have to go back to their actual last playoff win, their 2018 Wildcard Round victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
A lot of NFL records and statistics don’t count playoff games so if we are to stretch things out one last time and find the last time that the Cowboys defeated a non-NFC East team that made the playoffs during the regular season, then we have to go all the way back to when they shocked the world by defeating the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football during the latter part of the 2018 season. Needless to say it has been a while.
Beating bad teams is important, but good teams generally fare well against other good teams
The point of this conversation isn’t to pile on the Cowboys for how they pile on the lower-quality teams in the NFL but to outline how important it is for them to finish against teams that are among the better squads in the league in a given year. That goes without saying obviously, but the best teams find a way to do it.
Consider how the top teams in the NFL have fared in this same measurement. We began this at the point where Dallas last defeated a team that finished above .500 period, and that was their Week 15 win against the Rams back in 2019. Since then, the best teams in the NFL generally find a way to get it done against even the also good teams.
Obviously much of this data set for the Cowboys includes the 2020 season where they were very bad and broken in a number of ways, but what’s important is looking at how the most successful teams in the league have done. It should also be noted that there have been multiple games between the five teams listed in this same stretch which has even partly cannibalized the percentages.
Defeating the Chargers this past weekend was a positive step for the Cowboys, there is no doubt about that. There is also a similar level of belief that their schedule is about to lighten up with teams that likely will not finish the season above .500 and it is obviously important that they win those games, too.
But soon enough the Cowboys will come against another top team in the NFL and when they do we will obviously want to see them live up to the challenge. This has been something that they have struggled with for a very long time now, hopefully they have put an end to those days.