I dominated my office fantasy football league this season. I went into the playoffs as the #1 seed riding a 7-game winning streak. I was already clearing room on my shelf for the champion’s trophy and room in my ego for a year’s worth of bragging rights. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way they should. With Aaron Rodgers and the Packers deciding to take a week off, I lost convincingly to the #4 seed who predictably knows almost nothing about football. He did, however, have Tony Romo as his quarterback. Bittersweet in that Tony had a stellar game leading the Cowboys to a convincing win over the Bucs but simultaneously helped crush me in fantasy. So, who besides me cares about this?
Well, it seems to me that there are some parallels to this NFL season. Before they marched into Kansas City last week, just about every “expert” was ready to crown the Packers as undefeated, back-to-back Super Bowl winners. The Chiefs and Romeo Crennel, thankfully, had different plans. The Packers suddenly look very beatable thanks to their weak defense and an offensive line decimated with injuries. In short, they may have peaked too early.
What that also says to me is that it doesn’t necessarily matter how you get into the playoffs. No matter what your record is or what seed you get, you still have to play the game on the field. At that point, anything can happen. Last year’s Packers team and the Giants from 2007 proved that any team can get on a roll at the right time and rise to greatness. On the flip side, the 2007 Cowboys also proved that a 13-3 record and a number one seed don’t protect you from a let down.
The question before us now is ‘are the Cowboys ready to get on a roll and make a deep run in the playoffs’? Or, are they going to fail the test and tell us once again that ‘there is always next year’? No doubt, there are encouraging signs.
Tony Romo is playing some of the best football of his career. Twenty-one touchdowns and only 3 interceptions in the last 9 games (plus a rushing touchdown last week) and a 4th best QB rating of 102.6 so far this season behind only the likes of Rodgers, Brees, and Brady. Tony also has a solid stable of receivers to throw to including Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson, and Jason Witten all now relatively healthy and on the field at the same time. Despite a complete revamping of the running game and a season-ending injury to DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys still own the 11th best rushing attack in the NFL. That running game is showing signs of life of late with Felix Jones’ resurgence and the surprisingly good play of Sammy Morris in his one outing. And, the play of fullback Tony Fiammetta is without question helping deliver big plays.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has slipped to 19th overall but still own a solid #7 ranking in rush defense. LeSean McCoy may have gashed us for 185 yards in week 8, but in general we’ve been a solid run defense. DeMarcus Ware is always a threat and Sean Lee is quickly becoming a star. Based on the first half of the Buccaneers game, the simplified Rob Ryan defense can be really good if played with some emotion. The defense has been survivable this year except when it comes to protecting a lead. But, there is clearly upside potential with this group. Here’s hoping the changes made for the Tampa Bay game are signs of good things to come and not just a matter of playing a weaker opponent.
The test begins Saturday against the Eagles followed by the season finale against the Giants. We will know soon enough which team we have – one getting on a roll or “we’ll get ‘em next year” pretenders. I hope Santa will bring us the former on Christmas Eve. To help evaluate our chances, I’ve split my analysis into two parts – reasons why I think we can beat the Eagles and reasons I think we might get coal in our stockings.
REASONS FOR HOPE:
- This time around the Eagles do not have a bye week with almost 2 full weeks to rest and prepare for the Cowboys. There is a reason Andy Reid has a 13-0 record coming out of a bye week.
- The Eagles are giving up almost 114 yards rushing per game (17th in the league) – not horrible but we should be able to establish enough of a running game to keep them honest.
- The game is at home on turf and the Eagles are not the Giants (who sadly have never lost at Cowboys Stadium).
- The Cowboys are +5 in turnovers (8th) while the Eagles are -12 (31st) – getting the Eagles to continue to be generous with turning over the football will be key.
- Tony Romo is playing lights out – give him just a little bit of time and he will exploit the weaknesses in the “Dream Team” secondary.
- Dan Bailey – despite the fiasco’s at the end of the Arizona and Giants games, we finally have a kicker we can rely on. I like our chances if it comes down to a Bailey kick for the win this time around.
- The Cowboys were handed a pretty embarrassing loss by the Eagles in week 8. Throw out the playoff implications and every real man on the Cowboys should want to simultaneously crush the Eagles and their slim playoff chances.
- Sean Lee dislocated his wrist early in the week 8 game – he won’t miss this game and is playing like a Pro Bowler (team leading 59 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries). He will absolutely make our defense better.
- Vick still has sore ribs – hit him often enough and he will either want out or will make mistakes.
- The convincing Eagles win over the Jets last week was helped immeasurably by 4 Jets turnovers. Don’t give the ball away and our chances improve dramatically.
- The Eagles won here 30-27 last December but it was a wild, back-and-forth game with Jon Kitna playing QB. It will be a hot Romo this time.
REASONS FOR DESPAIR:
- The Eagles seem to have the momentum – even Jerry Jones comes out and says essentially “we’re afraid of the Eagles”. Thanks Jerry.
- Michael Vick is back from his rib injury and returning to form – this team was infinitely more beatable with Vince Young behind center.
- Jason Babin is on a tear – 8 sacks in his last 3 games. If we can’t protect Romo from Babin then it’s game over.
- Our secondary versus Jackson, Maclin, and Celek – Celek concerns me the most having seen our linebackers (including Sean Lee) exposed in the 2nd half of the Bucs game to crossing routes. Clearly this is our weakest point (ranked 19th overall in pass defense).
- Nagging injuries to DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff – we need them at full speed for the entire game. Ware alone had 4 sacks in the week 8 game and we’ll need that pressure again.
- Felix Jones’ hamstring – we need him at full speed. Despite an encouraging first outing, having to rely on Sammy Morris alone makes me a little queasy. And, a one-dimensional passing attack in the face of Philadelphia’s pass rush will be like waving fresh meat in front of wolves.
- With this defense, no lead will be safe in the 4th quarter.
- The bottom line is this – the Cowboys have a golden opportunity to put the Eagles away for good. Will they step up and deliver for the first time this year? Or let victory and opportunity slip away in the closing minutes like they did against the Giants? Time will tell. Strap in and get ready – nothing relaxing about this one. It will be an enjoyable and agonizing game that won’t be decided until the final seconds. Go Cowboys! Let’s get us some Christmas Eagle for dinner! I hear it tastes like chicken.
Tags: Andy Reid Dallas Cowboys DeMarcus Ware Dez Bryant Felix Jones Jason Witten Jerry Jones Laurent Robinson Miles Austin Philadelphia Eagles Playoffs Rob Ryan Sammy Morris Sean Lee Tony Fiammetta Tony Romo