Style points do not matter in the NFL. They serve only to craft narratives for people who need to write stories or compile power rankings, but style points don’t affect the standings. Only wins and losses (and the occasional tie) do.
To that end, the Cowboys have to be feeling pretty good. Simply put, they just find ways to win. Their game against the Titans, who were resting most of their starters, wasn’t pretty. But playing the game on a short week didn’t help either.
Nevertheless, Dallas picked up their 12th win of the year, making it consecutive seasons with at least 12 wins for Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys. How rare is that? Well, for starters, McCarthy never did that in Green Bay, and he won a Super Bowl and passed Vince Lombardi for second most wins in franchise history.
Furthermore, the Cowboys haven’t posted consecutive 12-win seasons since the 90s. In fact, the last time they did so was the 1994-1995 seasons. Notably, those were the first two seasons with Barry Switzer at head coach, and the Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl in his second year. Could history repeat itself?
That remains to be seen, but McCarthy has certainly accomplished something historic this year for Dallas. The Cowboys have won in all kinds of ways, too. They’ve had defensive battles, shootouts, blowouts, and even managed to pull wins out of games where the whole team played poorly. Obviously, it would be nice to put together more blowout wins, but it’s important to be able to win no matter what.
Furthermore, the Cowboys’ few losses this year don’t look all that bad in retrospect. The Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers was bad, but it was the first game of the year for an offense that underwent a lot of change in the offseason and didn’t play together in the preseason. Also, they lost Dak Prescott to injury during the game. And while Tampa Bay isn’t exactly great, they clinched their division before the Eagles could and will host a playoff game in the Wild Card round.
The loss to the Eagles never felt all that deflating either. It was the last start for Cooper Rush, and it featured the backup quarterback throwing two interceptions with a turnover on downs sandwiched in between. Even so, the Cowboys outscored the Eagles in the second half and very nearly completed a comeback with Rush under center. They happily returned that favor on Christmas Eve.
Then there were losses to the Packers and Jaguars, both coming in overtime. Both teams are also enjoying four-game win streaks at the moment and enter Week 18 with a win-and-you’re-in scenario set up. It’s entirely possible that all four of the Cowboys’ losses so far this year end up coming against playoff teams; only two of those games saw Prescott start and finish, and both of those losses were in overtime. Not too shabby.
There’s also the fact that the Cowboys, unlike last year, have piled up wins against some good teams. Five of their 12 wins this year have come against teams that currently have a winning record. No other team has more such wins at the moment. In fact, the Cowboys’ 5-1 record against winning teams is far and away the best in the league; the Eagles and Bills are both just behind Dallas at 3-1, while the Chiefs are 3-2.
That’s in stark contrast to last season, when the Cowboys were 5-4 against teams with a winning record; even that deserves a bit of an asterisk, as the Cowboys’ fifth win came against an Eagles team that was resting most of their starters ahead of the playoffs. All of that preceded the Cowboys getting knocked out of the playoffs pretty quickly by the 49ers.
The Cowboys still have one regular season game left to play, and with the NFC East still technically within their grasp, don’t expect McCarthy to ease up or rest any starters for this one. That means Dallas will be entering the playoffs already warmed up and ready to go.
That’s how they’ve played most of the year, and it’s been an overwhelmingly good one for them so far. Will it translate to the playoffs? That’s anyone’s guess for now, but McCarthy and these Cowboys have repeatedly shown that they just find ways to win no matter how well they’re playing on any given day. At the very least, that should help prepare Dallas for the meat grinder that is the playoffs.