It may not really feel like it, but the last two weeks have been pretty good for the Cowboys. Pretty or not, they got a win over the Chargers to move on from their embarrassing loss to the 49ers. That came a day after they saw the Eagles and 49ers drop their first games of the year. Then, the Cowboys went into their bye and watched the 49ers lose again while the Lions got blasted by the Ravens. As a nice bonus, the Commanders lost to the Giants to drop them under .500 for the season.
This is where Dallas finds itself as they prepare to take on the Rams. The only team in the NFC with one loss so far is the Eagles, who will play host to the Cowboys in a week. So if the Cowboys can beat the Rams - Dallas is a six-point favorite as of right now - and then win their first clash against the Eagles, they’ll be sitting in first place in the NFC East ahead of two other divisional games with a matchup against the winless Panthers sandwiched in between.
In short, this is a pivotal point of the Cowboys’ schedule. They could dramatically shift their trajectory and the landscape of the conference over these next five weeks, and it all starts this week with the Rams.
It feels like ages ago, but it’s really been just two years since the Rams won the Super Bowl. After going all in to get there, though, Los Angeles is feeling the side effects now. They were 5-12 last year, the first losing season in Sean McVay’s career, and are thus far 3-4 this year. That a 3-4 record feels like overachieving is a testament to how low the collective level of talent on this team is right now.
Los Angeles is not entirely without talent, though. Matthew Stafford has shown he’s still capable of putting up points, and Cooper Kupp is now supplemented by rookie phenom Puka Nacua to give this offense some deadly weapons. And the defense is still anchored by Aaron Donald and coordinated by Raheem Morris, a wildly underrated coach. This team is well coached all the way around, too, and the fact that they’re 4-2-1 against the spread this year tells you all you need to know.
The Rams aren’t a good team, but they are a feisty one. Similar to the Cardinals game, this is one that the Cowboys can easily lose if they aren’t at their best. And that’s what this really comes down to: which version of the Cowboys will show up on Sunday? They’ve had a chance to rest up, do some self-scouting, and take in the current landscape of the league. How will they do coming off the break?
Historically, Mike McCarthy’s teams have done well out of the bye. For his career, McCarthy is 11-5 coming off the bye week, and is 4-1 when doing so at home. In Dallas specifically, McCarthy is 2-1 after the bye, but all three of those games have come on the road. This time, the Cowboys will get to return from their week of rest in front of their own fans for a change.
The good news for the Cowboys is that they started practice for the week fully healthy; the only player with an injury designation on Wednesday was safety Juanyeh Thomas, and he was a full participant. Unfortunately, by Thursday Tyron Smith was limited with a neck injury. Obviously, the Cowboys aren’t completely healthy - Trevon Diggs, Leighton Vander Esch, Peyton Hendershot, and C.J. Goodwin are all on the injured reserve - but it looks like they’re in as good a spot as possible for this week’s game.
That’s exactly what you want coming off of a bye week. This will ultimately come down to whether or not the Cowboys can take care of business and not overlook the Rams. On paper, they should win comfortably, but that was also the case against the Cardinals. If the Cowboys can come out and win the way they typically have coming off the bye lately, it will set the tone for a pivotal stretch of games over the next month. If they can’t, though, the pressure on this team will rise to unsustainable levels.