The Dallas Cowboys are 2-0. Dallas is likely to reach 3-0 before you have dinner on Sunday. We are talking about the NFL where anything is possible, but the Cowboys are (at the time of this writing) 12-point favorites on the road in the desert against their old division rival. Nobody is making any assumptions, but for the purposes of this conversation we are going to assume that the game goes relatively chalk.
So we are all presuming that Dallas will march out to their first 3-0 start since the final season that the team operated under Jason Garrett. That 2019 campaign was four years ago and a lot has changed but looking back at things it is pretty unbelievable that such a talented group stumbled their way to a 9-7 finish, missing the playoffs in the process, which obviously led to the Garrett for Mike McCarthy swap that set up our current timeline.
What we are going to do today is take a look back at teams, including those 2019 Cowboys, that got off to 3-0 starts to see how valuable getting out of the gate that hot was relative to the coveted tournament.
There is obvious value in starting a season off 3-0
Shocker here. NFL teams would rather start off 3-0 than 2-1. Or 1-2. Or 0-3! Unbelievable, I know.
Understanding that a perfect record through three games is ideal, that in and of itself does not guarantee the game’s ultimate prize, but it does certainly put you in a promising position for it. Thanks to our friends at Stathead we are able to quickly identify just how promising of one that is.
In the Super Bowl era (1970 for the kids in the audience) there have been 155 teams to start off a season 3-0. Keep in mind that NFL regular seasons were only 14 games long until growing to 16 in 1979 and ultimately to 17 two years ago in 2021, so the value of a 3-0 start was even greater from a percentage standpoint at the beginning of our sample.
But looking at the 155 there are some notable things to take away:
- 115 made the playoffs (74%)
- 42 of those reached the Super Bowl (37%)
- 21 of those went on to win the Super Bowl (50%)
It is obviously funny that half of the teams who reached the Super Bowl wound up winning it given that they did not all face another team that started off 3-0 in their specific season. In case you are curious, there are seven instances of two teams who each started off 3-0 meeting in the Super Bowl in this timeframe (the Super Bowl era, duh).
One of them is a fond memory of ours:
- 1984: San Francisco 49ers defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX
- 1991: Washington franchise defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI
- 1992: Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII
- 1999: St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV
- 2004: New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX
- 2009: New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV
- 2015: Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50
There is no direct cause and effect situation here but it is obviously promising that a 3-0 start generally leads to postseason play; however, as we can certainly attest around here that is not always the case.
The last two Dallas Cowboys teams to start 3-0 both missed the playoffs
Context is necessary and some would argue that staying grounded is not a bad thing given, well, the very thing we are about to talk about.
The Cowboys are off to a 2-0 start for the first time under Mike McCarthy and obviously for the first time since that 2019 season mentioned up top. That Cowboys team was amazingly not even the first in franchise history to throw away a 3-0 start.
In total, the Dallas Cowboys have started a season off 3-0 a total of 13 times in the Super Bowl era.
You obviously know that the bolded teams lifted the Lombardi Trophy and as we just discussed the 1992 group even knocked off a fellow 3-0 start team. Amazingly every team in franchise history that started off 3-0 reached the playoffs until that infamous 2008 group.
Interestingly the third win of 2008 came against current head coach Mike McCarthy in primetime when the Green Bay Packers were still figuring things out with Aaron Rodgers, but no need to re-visit that. That season was broken in a lot of ways and while we can’t shy away from the fact that they disappointed, a lot of it was due to notable injuries, some of which were suffered where this year’s team will be on Sunday. Again, not going there.
The way that Dallas has gotten off to 2-0 this season separates them from a lot of teams
Getting back to the larger picture though, things do feel a bit different with this year’s Dallas Cowboys team. To get to 3-0 you obviously have to get to 2-0 and not only have they done so, they have done it in extremely dominant fashion.
There is no one way to prove that Team X is better than Team Y, but point differential is generally a good indication of a team’s dominance. While we are certainly willing to acknowledge that we are still in a very small sample size of two games, the Cowboys have really flexed their muscles in this regard.
If we isolate things to look at teams in the Super Bowl era who started off 2-0 (since Dallas is not at 3-0 at this moment) with a point differential of at least +60 which is where the Cowboys are, we have suddenly removed a lot of teams from the fray and are left with only seven.
Not to rain on any sort of parade here, but none of these previous six teams won the Super Bowl. The 1975 Washington group was actually one of the teams that we have been talking about who missed the playoffs altogether. You hate to see it.
Interestingly the last team to get off to this strong of a start in terms of being 2-0 with this robust of a point differential also featured a current member of the Cowboys, cornerback Stephon Gilmore. It was actually that 2019 season when Gilmore won the Defensive Player of the Year Award that decorates his mantle.
Obviously none of these things are predictive and the 2023 Dallas Cowboys are a team totally and completely unto themselves. Everything they have to accomplish is still in front of them, but history shows it is a lot easier to do if they are able to get started with a 3-0 record.