There’s been no lack of adulation for the Dallas Cowboys’ 6-2 start in 2022 given Dak Prescott’s absence for five games. But regardless of the QB situation, winning 75% of their first eight games is something that the Cowboys have only accomplished a few other times in the last 20 years. What have those hot starts meant for the team in the past?
We don’t have to look back very far for the last occurrence. In fact, it was just a year ago. The 2021 Cowboys lost their season opener and then won their next six. They would finish the regular season with a 12-5 record and the NFL’s top-raked offense. Unfortunately, that offense wasn’t constructed well enough to handle the 49ers’ defense in Dallas’ first and only playoff game. The trend of early playoff exits continued and left Mike McCarthy with some dubious job security heading into this season.
While there are still nine games left to decide if McCarthy will get a chance to redeem himself in the postseason, history says that Dallas’ current 6-2 record gives him a great shot at it. Including last year, the Cowboys have made the playoffs every time that they’ve started with at least a 6-2 record over the last 20 seasons.
In an almost equally surprising start to what we’ve seen this year, a rookie Dak Prescott found out he’d be the starting quarterback just a few weeks before the opener when Tony Romo was injured in a preseason game. Dallas lost narrowly in its first game, going down to the Giants by just one point.
Thanks to a monstrous rookie season from running back Ezekiel Elliott, great offensive line play from Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, and the shocking reliability of Prescott, Dallas would win its next 11 games. They finished 13-3 in arguably Jason Garrett’s greatest achievement as the team’s head coach.
Unfortunately, the fairy tale ended abruptly in the playoffs. Even a bye week and home field weren’t enough to save the Cowboys from Aaron Rodgers and their head coach at the time, Mike McCarthy. It was the second time in consecutive playoff games that the Packers ended Dallas’ season.
Two years earlier, Tony Romo’s Cowboys went 6-2 and finished 12-4 on the year. Running back DeMarco Murray set a new single-season franchise record with 1,845 rushing yards. With the offense humming, Dallas went into those playoffs with high confidence.
They would get a rare postseason victory in the first round over the Detroit Lions. But as mentioned before, those pesky Packers were waiting the following week. The infamous “Dez caught it” moment came from that playoff game and remains one of the biggest “what if” questions in franchise history.
Romo had a few other cracks at postseason success thanks to strong regular-season starts. While the 2009 Cowboys went 2-2 in their first four games, they would then reel off four-straight wins on the way to an 11-5 record and another division title.
In the peak of Wade Phillips’ tenure as head coach, Dallas got its first playoff win since 1996 by putting down the wild card Eagles. But that party didn’t last long as the Cowboys were walloped 34-3 by the Vikings in the second round.
Some still argue that the 2007 Cowboys were the best overall roster the franchise has had since the 90s. They started the year 12-1 and had one of the best balances between offense and defense, with a young Romo, Jason Witten, and Terrell Owens on one side and DeMarcus Ware leading the other.
Sadly, that greatness didn’t manifest in the playoffs. Dallas’ offense no-showed in their first playoff game against the New York Giants. It is perhaps the defining moment in the Cowboys’ long run of postseason failure.
While most perceive that everything was awful between Troy Aikman and Tony Romo’s runs in Dallas, there was this one outlier in 2003. Bill Parcells’ first season as head coach came with some immediate benefits, not the least of which the Cowboys’ first postseason appearance in this millennium.
Dallas started 7-2 in a dramatic turnaround from the Dave Campo years. QB Quincy Carter had his finest year in the NFL and the Cowboys finished as a 10-6 wild card team. They lost to the eventual NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, but it was still an impressive start to Parcells’ tenure.
In summation, the Cowboys have had six seasons where they started 6-2 or better over the last two decades. All but one resulted in a division title and all of them led to playoff appearances.
Its 6-2 start in 2022 has certainly put Dallas in good positioning for another postseason berth. While the Philadelphia Eagles are looking like the eventual NFC East Champions with their 8-0 record, the Cowboys are currently the top wild card contender and have a solid cushion over the 49ers and Commanders at the bottom of the bracket.
With nine game still to go, plenty can happen that either hurts or helps Dallas’ postseason goals. But at the very least, they’ve laid a great foundation over the first half of the year that typically gets teams into the tournament.