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Cowboys gallimaufry: penalties, kicking, LVE, and more!

A long time ago, in an internet far far away, there was an amusing website (firejoemorgan.com) that offered up critiques of bad sports announcing and writing. They shuttered up almost 15 years ago (!), but even after all this time I think fondly of their various pieces - including a running entry of "gallimaufry" posts. Anytime they wanted to offer a collection of quick thoughts, it was gallimaufry (meaning "hodgepodge") time. That's where this title comes from; hat tip to them!

Anyways, on to the various thoughts! Feel free to take it all in, skim, or selectively choose what to read closely.

The Overlooked Aspect Of Dallas's High 2021 Penalty Rate

Watch any 2021 Cowboy game from the early season onward, and sooner or later you'd be graced with talk about how many penalties the Cowboys have committed this season. 122 flags against the team, most in the NFL (by 2). 1059 penalty yards, second-worst in the league (7 behind the Raiders). Heck, lumping in offsetting and declined flags makes it even worse - 148 total flags drawn, a whopping 11 more than the next-closest team. Not good!

But do you know who the third-most penalized team in the NFL is? No, not Houston, the official team in third place. It's "whatever team is playing the Cowboys", a combination entity that has racked up 118 accepted calls against it.

Running the numbers, Cowboy opponents have suffered 7.38 flags and 58.94 penalty yards a game. Is that because Dallas has faced a particularly undisciplined slate of opponents? Not really: in non-Cowboy games, these teams have been called for 5.96 penalties and 50.76 yards per game, which would place 21st and 17th in the league respectfully if compared to all teams. As one would expect from a random sample, Cowboy opponents have been roughly average in their penalties given up overall - and yet, in games against the Cowboys, they have been transformed!

What stands out the most is that these teams have penalized about the same on defense and special teams in Cowboy and non-Cowboy games; it's the offensive penalties that have skyrocketed, from 2.82 to 3.81 calls a game.

If nothing else, it's pretty darn clear that a good chunk of Dallas's absurdly high penalty rate is the result of a quick penalty trigger on behalf of the referees. The "why" behind that is a very good question, but at least it isn't just Dallas itself being picked on - and if sports announcers did their homework, they wouldn't be quite on Dallas's case (and instead would focus on the referees themselves) about this in every broadcast.

Penalties, Part Deux

The penalty type that might most help explain this is "Holding". The Cowboys have been called for 29 Holds, good for a tie for second-most in the NFL, and Cowboy opponents have had the highest count of Holds of any opposing collective in the NFL (28).

This stands out, in that Holding is perhaps the most fungible penalty type in the NFL. Because "there is Holding on every play", rare is the Holding call that is 100% indefensible as at least arguably a penalty, and likewise it takes a pretty egregious holding action that isn't called to draw much complaint. Pass Interference probably gets the most talk due to it always occurring centered in camerashot and due to it offering up the biggest per-play yardage hit, and other types will often draw attention due to being more black and white (such as hitting the helmet of a passer) - but it is Holding that offers up the most ability to questionably steer an outcome, all while being tougher to analyze and more common than other much-discussed types.

When it comes to a "good" or "bad" Holding call, then, it usually is about a combination of three factors: how blatant was the holding action, how much was the opposing player's movement redirect by the holding action, and how in-the-open was the block? Degree is important, because, again, there are countless literal "holds" that fit the definition of the penalty but go unflagged. Visibility is also important; it's hard to get on the refs for literally not being able to see a hold, most especially in the interior of the engaged lines, whereas any block on the edge or in space next to a big lane will be more scrutinized.

What is strange is that the Cowboy OL has kept right up with the Holding rate of opponents, despite the OL being talented and generally effective (simple perceptions of some aside, ask Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders and such about it). It may not be dominating games, but at a glance there seems to be a notable difference between the sort of Holding opponents are being called for (e.g. Parsons or Gregory on the edge drawing desperate arm reaches) and the sort being put on Dallas (e.g. holding movement without an actual holding action, minor holding action and movement near a hole that is no different than dozens of such combinations in every game by every team). I wouldn't come close to planting a flag on this notion without someone doing a real investigation, but it seems that the only way for the Dallas OL to be flagged for Holding as much as opposing OLs this season is for exactly what Cowboy fans have felt has been happening: too many "ticky tack" holds against the Cowboys. But that's only a thought, not anything close to something we can take as true.

Note 1
: the other penalty type that dominates for NFL offenses, False Starts, make up the bulk of the rest of Dallas's offensive flags; but they have also occurred at a smack average rate and are a pretty black and white call. Every other offensive penalty is a low-rate type, and thus it is Holding calls that have dominated Dallas's league-leading offensive calls against.

Note 2: Dallas's defense has drawn a decently high rate of penalties, but 14 of the 44 have been some type of offsides; not much to argue with there, as those calls tend to be accurate and within a team's control. Dallas has been hammered with Unnecessary Roughness at twice the league average (10 rather than 5), which may or may not be deserved.

Greg Zuerlein's Curious Split Stats

There is no doubting the Zuerlein has not gotten the job done, overall, this season. The overall numbers speak for themselves: Zuerlein is paid to offer an advantage above the league average rates of 84.6% on FGs and 93.1% on XPs, but he has only performed to respective rates of 82.4% and 87.8%. He hasn't quite been awful, contrary to what some have said, but he's been below average despite the team looking for him (and paying him) to be an advantage - an awful combination, to be sure.

(Zuerlein does have the highest Touchback% and Average Kickoff Distance in the league...huzzah? According to Football Outsiders, Dallas's Kickoff unit as a whole has been basically average in value, and I just graphed kickoff unit performance relative to TB% and found a very minor and very weak positive connection. This is what you read for, I know!)

That being said, feast your eyes on the following tidbits:
Zuerlein, '21 in first half of games - 13 for 18 (72.2%) on FGs, 19 for 23 (82.3%) on XPs
Zuerlein, '21 in second half of games - 15 for 16 (93.8%) on FGs, 17 for 18 (94.4%) on XPs
Zuerlein, '21 at home - 8 FG attempts, 26 XP attempts
Zuerlein, '21 on the road - 26 FG attempts, 15 XP attempts

The huge gap in FG attempts on the road versus at home is really just a curiosity, and more about the Cowboys than Zuerlein. But look at the difference in performance between each half! Huh.

I pointed this out in a comment earlier this week and somehow gotten it taken the wrong way (some took it as a defense of Zuerlein or making excuses for him even though I had written that this was "far from excused" - learn to read, fellas!), so I'll try to quickly summarize what we can take from this:
-The common line is that Zuerlein has been "unreliable" all year and at this point is leading folks to close their eyes on his kick attempts
-In the first half of games, Zuerlein has actually been worse than perceived overall; straight up "bad", really
-In the second half of games, he's been exactly as good as any of us could have hoped
-Ergo, you can probably breath easy seeing Zuerlein line up for any given second half kick...but you might want to take an early bathroom or snack break and leave the room before any of his first half kick attempts
-Given that kicking is a lot like NFL pitching, almost entirely isolated to the individual and all about mechanics, this is the sort of thing that doesn't defy reasonable explanation. Perhaps it's mechanical, and he physically is off his game but somehow "warms up" as he practices (so, umm, maybe get to the stadium early Greg?). Or perhaps it's mental, and he finds better focus later in games
-Points are points, so he's still overall letting the team down just as much. Just, maybe we don't need to be scared silly by him after halftime

NFL Kicking Is Weird

I saw a comment early this week in which someone essentially said "is it so much to ask to have a guy who can make about 90% of his FGs"? It's not at all an unreasonable thought, given that there are 10 kickers who have outright exceeded that threshold in 2021. But, looking at the list, I was reminded just how inconsistent most NFL kickers are. Here's that list of 90% kickers, with notes:
Justin Tucker - the gold standard, arguably the best kicker in NFL history
Matt Gay - hit just 77.1% of his FGs in 2019 as a rookie before being cut and signing in-season with the Rams last year
Brett Maher - this is not a typo! Hasn't kicked all season, but he is indeed 13 for 14
Younghoe Koo - a bit overrated given his career dome home/away split (85.7%/93.9%), but pretty good in his short career thus far
Daniel Carlson - drafted by the always kicking-needy Vikings, was cut after starting 1 for 4 with them and hit just 81.0% and 73.1% of FGs in his first two seasons before rocking each of the last two. Sorry, Minnesota!
Nick Folk - another old friend, Folk made the Pro Bowl early on with Dallas, got iced after a bad third season, struggled over his first three seasons with the Jets, found himself for four solid ones, fell out of favor and became a journeyman...and then the magic water in New England has turned him into a very good kicker (better than ever before) in years 13 and 14, despite kicking in a tough venue
Zane Gonzalez - terrible for a bit more than a year in Cleveland, was good in his third pro season with ARI, terrible (72.7%) in year four and then cut, now exceeding 90%
Joey Slye - only hit 78.1% and 80.6% of FGs for CAR in his first two years, somehow has hit 90.9% this year despite bouncing around between three different teams!
Dustin Hopkins - struggled in all but two of his first six seasons in WAS, cut after six games this year, picked up by the Chargers and has thrived with them (94.4%)
Jake Elliott - had never touched 85% on FGs in a season before this year and bottomed out to 73.7% last year

Tucker and maybe Koo aside, this is a list of guys who have all had struggles before this year. Sample sizes can lead to sudden swings in numbers from relatively short struggles, and guys themselves can change in a heartbeat too. Heck, Maher himself was inconsistent in his first year in Dallas, actually was looking pretty good and barely missing when he did early in year two, and then his wheels completely came off (leading to his justified release) after that...there was never anything consistent about him!

What does this mean for Zuerlein? I have no idea! Only once over the past six years did he do worse than 82% (72.7% in 2019, when he supposedly had an injury), so it's not as if he's lost it or has fallen into "bad" territory, but at the same time weaker-than-expected results are what they are. The team could move on from him and see him break 90% multiple times in the years to come, or he could bottom out, or anything in between. No defense or strong criticism against him - he can and should do better, but beyond that it's pretty open.

Note 1
: of the nine qualifying kickers with a lower FG% than Zuerlein this season, the list includes Rodrigo Blankenship (86.5% last year), Ka'imi Fairbairn (87.1%), Mason Crosby (100%), Jason Myers (100%), and Jason Sanders (92.3%). As I said, kicking is weird!

Could Leighton Vander Esch Still Have A Future In Dallas?

So a funny thing happened on the way to LVE's poor-performing fourth and (contractually) final year with the Cowboys: his performance has climbed and recently has seemed pretty solid.

One of the hidden stories with LVE the past couple of years, even as he struggled with injuries, was that he hadn't actually been playing all that well even when he was on the field. The tape had dropped off a lot in 2019 before he eventually went on IR and got neck surgery, but given how the word was that he had been dealing with neck injury symptoms most were ready to cut him slack on the performance side. Last year's multiple fluke injuries drew concerns about LVE being injury prone, but true or not he had been a negative when he had played, with instincts and standout mobility absent on film. And LVE's PFF grades were as poor as the tape suggested.

Too much was made of Dallas not exercising LVE's fifth year rookie contract option - the option values for true off-the-ball linebackers is inflated by 3-4 pass rushers such as TJ Watt and thus require more than many positions to justify - but there was no doubt entering the year that LVE needed to give Dallas or at least some NFL teams something to like from his 2021 season to set his future up. The hope was that a relatively healthy season would allow him to showcase at least a partial performance rebound, and then his future would be wide open again.

And then the actual games arrived. And LVE, as far as we know, has been healthy. And...the results were not pretty. For roughly the first half of the year, LVE was alternatively invisible on tape or letting the defense down. He looked slow to diagnose play type and run directions, sluggish and lacking in confidence choosing a path of attack, badly missed some tackles, and often was out of position in coverage. Again, PFF concurred with the tape, as a horrible beginning added up to an awful 43.0 grade through six games while a spike fueled by a great game against the Broncos dragging down to 50.2 by game twelve. It seemed that LVE's game had been permanently lost.

I may be imagining it, but LVE's recent tape has seemingly been improved. It's still nothing like what we saw in 2018, but it seems to have gone from liability to a piece. He's more frequently engaged ballcarriers closer to the LOS, still not firing off with confidence but not looking as delayed as before. He also has been at least decent in coverage, to my eyes. That perception again has aligned with LVE's season-long PFF grade, which has reached a decent 62.3. That's not a praiseworthy grade, but it's a notable step up from the earlier struggles, and reaching 62.3 now means his more recent games have been better than that.

There's another element to this story: NFL linebacking has seemingly been struggling as a whole, and PFF grades have spoken the same message. The position has seen a peak individual grade of 88.6 - and that's from Micah Parsons, whose performance is primarily built on his position-defying pass rushing. For reference, veteran Shaq Thompson grades out at 10th at his position - at just 73.5. There are numerous highly-drafted young backers with grades in the 50s and 40s, and Parsons himself only has a 56.7 run defense grade (still good for 63rd percentile!), though his coverage grade has climbed all year.

Why is this significant for LVE? Because while his grade alone is unimpressive, it ranks out at 28th out of 86 qualifiers at the position. That still speaks only to a solid/mediocre starter, but still a worthy one. Perhaps he is finding his footing and can ascend to make more of an impact, or perhaps he might settle in as just a decent piece, but either way NFL defenses need linebackers right now. Even if this "improvement" is more a function of the Dallas DL filling out in numbers than anything to do with LVE on his own, that still means he is more than a liability when given opportunity.

Does that mean Dallas should extend itself to retain LVE? Probably not - if there is at least one team out there that sees its desired skill set or scheme fit in his profile and is willing to pay him accordingly, he should be let go. But if his market proves tepid, he might be willing to stick around at least for the short term in an attempt to make up for lost time while potentially boosting his league-wide stock. At present, Dallas's linebacker group really only has Parsons and Jabril Cox as notable pieces in the group for 2022; it's going to have to retain some others with expiring contracts or else add from the outside. Why can't it be LVE?

Front Page Overreaction?

There is no doubt that the loss to the Cardinals was disappointing, and I wouldn't fault anyone for feeling bearish about the ability of the Cowboys to make a playoff run to the Super Bowl in 2021. But the reaction of some of the Front Page Writers in the wake of the defeat perplexed me.

One moment, the talk (rhetoric?) was almost uniformly positive, glowing even. That seemed to be reasonably justified given a team who going into the last game had just secured its division after being one of the first playoff locks in the league, all while playing to a quality that was rated as tops in the league by respected metrics such as DVOA. Even if the team wasn't the top seed or playing its best, that's reason for feeling firmly positive, yes?

But then we had lines like these after the game:
"Sadly, Dallas looks like a pretender again."
"Cowboys game ball: We had to give it to someone on the Dallas side, so we did"
"There were only losers this week"
"If Dallas hopes to advance in the playoffs, they have a lot to fix"

That's...quite a swing from one game! That much of a gap says that either the previous positivity was inflated or the response to the Cardinals game was too strong, and given the justification for the prior positivity I have to lean towards the latter. I'm not at all saying this is a team that is kicking arse and taking names and can be penciled in for at least a couple of playoff victories - no, there is work to do, to be sure. But...wasn't that still the case as of the week earlier? Before the game against Football Team, the Cowboys had not been playing their best ball, and while the domination against Washington served as a reminder of how strong this team is it was still only one game too and not a promise that every wrinkle had been smoothed.

And what about the disrespect the reaction paid to the Cardinals? It had been playing poorly of late, but this was still a top 10 DVOA team, one that could at least partly snap out of its funk at any given time. The Cardinals proved their determination when they whipped out their extra point trump card play, fielding Murray and their kicker at the same time. That's the sort of play you save for when you really need a win - as teams will be looking for it going forward, so it likely would only work once - and the Cardinals used it in this contest. It also isn't clear why the Cardinals are just 3-4 at home and a whopping 8-1 on the road this year, but if there's anything behind that split it seems to have been a factor too.

A three point loss against that sort of team, being given the "lost handily to one of the worst teams in the NFL" treatment? I hope they don't have that talked pinned to the bulletin board for the likely rematch come playoff time!

Anyways, a lot has been made of the Cowboys struggling on offense lately, but the context of those games seems to be getting overlooked:
@KC - tough road venue, defense that was peaking after early struggles
LV - disruption of a short week, a million penalties, still scored 33 points
@NO - tough road venue, elite defense (4th in DVOA despite the drag of bad QB play on the other side)
@WAS - talented but formerly grossly underperforming defense had allowed just 17.4 PPG the prior 5 contests
@NYG - underrated defense given the drag of THE worst DVOA offense in the NFL

A stretch of four road games in five, two of the toughest road venues in the league, Thursday night football, mixes of tough matchups or defenses playing better at the time - that's not exactly a recipe for "righting the ship", yes? That's not an excuse, but that's the rub: does the Cowboy offense leave so much that begs to be excused?

Take the above stretch, plus the Cardinals game (that's the #6 defensive DVOA team, by the way), and the Cowboys put up 23.2 PPG. 23.2 PPG, and excluding the blowout against a Football Team that had lost its prior momentum. That figure would rank 15th in the NFL, meaning that a Cowboy offense with kinks going up against a well-tougher-than-average set of games (defensively) still performed to an "average" level.

I'm not saying that's good enough. It isn't; we all see that there are issues with this offense, relatively speak. But I've seen talk of an "awful" offense, a "failing" offense, and similar sorts of strongly negative descriptions of the unit. Sure, maybe it's been "bad" relative to what we've seen this offense do at other times, but that isn't the same as being bad overall.

The Zero Sum Cowboys

You won't hear any argument from me against the notion that the Cowboys have been inconsistent. How could anyone argue otherwise? And that is all the more frustrating given the inconsistency of the franchise's recent teams. What stinks the most is that the Cowboys, crazy slate of injuries aside, never really bottom out, meaning that they're always doing plenty right to go with whatever is going wrong. But, for some reason that is starting to become almost funny, the Cowboys are showing a steady pattern of being something of a zero sum game, with different things going wrong to always largely cancel out the good.

Look at the track record, going back to 2014:
2014 - the offense reemerges (ranked 5th in DVOA), but a low-talent defense holds things back (18th), even when boosted by the offense's OL-fueled ball control
2015 - investments in the defense, especially the pass rush, pay off, but the defense (17th) goes from being buoyed by the offense to dragged down by one crippled by injuries (30th)
2016 - the offense rebounds to elite status (3rd), but the defense (14th) takes a major step back even as it is once against boosted by the offense. If only DLaw hadn't been set back by suspension and injuries, ones that hid his 2015 breakout that led Jerry Jones to his offseason of "war daddy" talk
2017 - in the first half of the season, the offense took one step back relative to 2016 but was still effective, while the defense took the anticipated hit of working in a bevy of young players (especially in the secondary) all at once. The defense started to add up in the second half of the season...just in time for the "burning in Atlanta" disaster at LT that threw off the offense for the entire second half
2018 - years of attempts to add to the defense finally pay off with a legit top 10 defense (9th in DVOA) that stood all one its own without boost from the offense. Naturally, the offense (24th) suffered a season-long setback from the sudden loss of Travis Frederick causing the OL to not be a strength for the first time in five years
2019 - Frederick's return sparks a rebound in the OL and offense as a whole (2nd), but naturally the breakout young defense slides back (16th) instead of forwards. That combo still should have been enough to make some noise, except that this is the one season in the entire sample in which the special teams (30th) bottoms out to a major liability. Sigh.
2020 - the special teams rebounds to 7th, (thanks, Bones!), but both the offense (24th) and defense (23rd) slide thanks to a max level of injuries as well as a poorly-timed defensive scheme change. Naturally, the offense was still very good early in the season, when the defense was utterly lost...and yet even as the defense at least stopped the worst bleeding, the loss of Prescott among other offensive injuries flipped that minor progress
2021 - as we probably all recall given that the current season is fresh in our minds, the offense was flying crazy high in the first half of the season even as the defense was inconsistent...since then, the defense has asserted itself, but the offense has become the inconsistent one

The Cowboys have certainly seen more offensive than defensive success over this period, but its remarkable that the localized defensive spike of 2015 coincided with one of the injury-wrecked offenses, the short-lived jump of the 2018 offense likewise being timed with the fluke major loss of Frederick, and not one but two seasons (2017 and 2021) have involved a half in which the offense and defense each had a spike to "good enough to contend with" performance...but always when the other flopped. And it's almost a cosmic joke that the one time pre-2021 when the offense and defense were at least average on their own (2019) came the one time when special teams was a hidden Achilles Heel. Is this the price Jerry Jones agreed to pay when he sold his soul for rapid success when he first bought the team? Umm, guess I'll keep telling myself that...

A Wide Open NFL

There is something being lost on those who are outright dismissing the ability of the Cowboys to make a run in the 2021 playoffs due to inconsistency: every single 2021 contender has had its own struggles with inconsistency. Look at the list:

Green Bay Packers - just 8th in DVOA, trading an elite offense (2nd) for a mediocre defense (19th) and atrocious special teams (32nd). They're a lot like the 2019 Cowboys, except that they have managed to win by the skin of their teeth against CIN (OT), ARI (24-21), BAL (31-30), and CLE (24-22) whereas the 2019 Cowboys lost all its close games against stronger teams. That's the difference sometimes between 9-7 and 13-3...well, that and some curious officiating in which the Packers have been flagged just 25 times at home, 11 fewer than the next closest team. Hmm.

Los Angeles Rams - crazy talented, but have been all over the place. They looked dominant early on outside of one rough defeat to the Cardinals, then had a three-game losing swoon in midseason, then have since rebounded...only to barely manage to pull off a win last week against a Ravens team without Lamar Jackson to go with all its other ridiculous injuries. Plus, ask anyone who covers the Rams about Matthew Stafford, and you'll hear that he reflects the team as a whole, at times looking like an MVP and at others doing his best to fart away games. They can beat anyone, but on any given Sunday could blow it too.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - never count out Tom Brady, and the Bucs are pretty loaded too, but after looking like easily the best team in the NFL earlier in the year their defense has been sliding and lately the offense has sprung leaks too. Losing Godwin on offense hurt; having Brown go insane (again) was another blow. This has culminated in TB barely pulling out a win against the lowly Jets; can anyone have confidence in that? Again, Brady might end up willing success all on his own, and/or the defense might find itself again, but this is a team trending wrong.

Arizona Cardinals
- slid badly after a high-flying start. Their exciting pieces on offense have hidden that it has actually been the defense that has done the heavy lifting. Hopkins being out has hurt, but it's unclear whether he will be able to return to impact form in time for the playoffs. Again, too talented to write off - it comes down to whether the win against Dallas was a return to form as opposed to one last blaze of brightness before burning out. That 18 point loss to the Lions is all the proof we need that this isn't a team to count on.

San Francisco 49ers - maybe the most underrated team in the bunch, they're the #7 DVOA team with an elite offense (5th) and near-elite defense (8th). To top that off, the team has been dealing with adversity all year, especially early on, and so could peak at the right time. On the other hand, there are two realities staring them in the face: 1) QB Jimmy Garoppolo, as per usual, is dealing with injuries and his status could have a huge impact, and 2) SF still has to secure a place in the big dance. If they lose to the Rams this week (not all that unlikely) and the Falcons beat the Saints in Atlanta (not probable, but possible) their 2021 journey would end abruptly.

Philadelphia Eagles - they deserve major credit for turning a tough start around, and they're probably better than most given them credit for, but barring 2000s-NYG-level luck does anyone see them delivering a string of road wins against their probably set of NFC opponents?

New Orleans Saints
- they have to get in first, and even if they do their strong coaching and elite defense probably can't overcome a flawed offense

The AFC - the Titans are one of the weakest #1 seeds we've seen, though returns from some key injuries could dampen that status. The Chiefs have seen both defense and (talent stacked) offense come and go at times this year, so nobody concerned about Cowboy inconsistency could waive off the same for KC. Their #2 seed and strong home field advantage puts the odds in their favor, but they can still drop the ball to be sure. The Bengals have been Jekyll-and-Hyde and are probably a year away from being true contenders, though they're a ton of fun and might emerge with the right breaks. My father-in-law is a Bills fan; he'd laugh at you if you tried to push the Bills as more reliable than the Cowboys, though they are talent-loaded and would be scary if firing on all cylinders. One can rarely count the Patriots out with Belichick coaching, but there's no getting past that no rookie-QB-led team has ever made a Super Bowl. The Colts/Chargers/Raiders? Long odds there.

The 2021 season has been defined by team inconsistency! Why Dallas's like ups-and-downs invalidates them in what would logically then be an invalidated field is beyond me - someone has to emerge from each Conference. Any Cowboy fan who acknowledges the simple truth - that the odds are firmly not in Dallas's favor, specifically - is just pointing out something that applies to the entire collective of contenders.

And that's the thing about these contenders: take the present playoff field, and the only team I struggle to see as capable of winning in its respective Conference is the Eagles. While there is no single "this team is probably a straight up coin flip to take the Conference" team this year, this is one of the deepest fields of worthy, talented contenders I've seen in a long time. That doesn't bode well for Dallas chances, individually, but it should make for a very fun playoffs and means the Cowboys are little worse off than anyone else, first round byes aside. When the dust settles, it much more likely than not won't be them, but conversely "why not them?" applies as well.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.