Approaching only the third game of the NFL season with a 1-1 overall record, it would seem that a second loss would naturally hurt a team yet not cause overly severe damage. Of course the Dallas Cowboys are not your average NFL team. There are several reasons why Tampa Bay stealing a win this Sunday in Dallas would result in panic and intense damage to the season.
1) DEFLATED MORALE (PLAYERS AND FANS)
After Week 1, Cowboys fans and players were riding high and feeling very confident about the team’s potential. Dallas boldly showcased it’s upgraded depth chart, and for all intents and purposes the results exceeded the early expectations. Walking away from New York with an impressive win and their heads raised up high was a likely indicator to the public that the Cowboys were back.
Oh what a difference a week makes. We know all too well of the dismal performance that followed and the head-scratching that has taken place ever since. Just who are these 2012 Dallas Cowboys? The team that matched up with the defending Super Bowl champs and slapped them down in their own house? Or are they the glazed over bunch that never seemed to exit of the starting gate against a vulnerable opponent in Week 2?
The answer likely rests somewhere in between until proven otherwise. From my perspective, it seems like more of the same. Talent and potential draped all over the roster, yet lacking the necessary resolve and hunger to turn the corner. If this Dallas team allows an average Tampa Bay squad to come into Cowboys Stadium and drop them to 1-2, the fallout will be massive and the result will be a greatly divided house in Cowboys circles. A team with real playoff ambitions should not lose two straight against the likes of Seattle and Tampa Bay early in the year.
2) FALLING BEHIND NFC EAST FOES
With a loss to the Bucs, the Cowboys would not only drop to 1-2 overall, yet also 1-2 in the NFC conference. When vying for playoff spots at the end of the season, we all know just how important the conference record becomes. Philadelphia squares off this week with a highly beatable Arizona team and should notch their third victory, bringing their conference record to 1-0. This would leave Dallas two games behind the Eagles overall, and with two more losses than the Eagles in conference.
That is certainly not a deficit the Cowboys want to be facing just three weeks into the season. In addition, both the Redskins (vs. Cincinnati) and Giants (at Carolina) have difficult, yet winnable games. While not as damaging as the Eagles margin would be, every win counts and Dallas could find themselves in last place in the East by the end of the weekend. If the Giants were to elevate to 2-1 while Dallas fell to 1-2, all momentum from the opening victory against New York would be completely erased.
3) UNFORGIVING SCHEDULE
Next up after Tampa Bay brings in a very formidable Bears team with playoff desires, which is another NFC conference game. A Monday night battle with Chicago while facing the possibility of dropping to 1-3 in the NFC is almost unthinkable. Stranger things have happened, but that’s a deep enough hole to bury a team with serious playoff ambitions. The NFC conference is as strong and competitive as it has been in years. It’s very doubtful any team is going to back into a wildcard slot without firmly earning it.
In my opinion the Cowboys need to be 3-1 heading into the bye to have a solid chance at playoff contention. The next five games following the week off are as brutal as they are unforgiving…at Baltimore, at Carolina, vs. New York Giants, at Atlanta, and at Philadelphia. Limping into that stacked slate of intense competition with a 1-3 or even 2-2 record is a position this team should have zero desire to find itself in.
4) STATISTICAL ADVANTAGES
Through two weeks of the 2012 season, this Bucs squad should be just what the doctor ordered for a team with wounded pride to pounce on. With a defense yielding 452 ypg overall and 400 ypg in passing alone, it’s almost unforgivable for the Dallas offense not to shred their secondary. It certainly won’t get any easier than the last place Tampa Bay passing defense, 87 yards beyond the next to last Dolphins.
On offense, the Bucs are 29th in total offense and in the same lowly spot in passing offense. Although Seattle is even worse through the air statistically, Dallas should be able to focus on shutting down the run without too much threat of being torched through the air. Also, Tampa Bay has the 29th ranked third down conversion percentage at a measly 29%. Just for comparison, the Cowboys convert third downs at a 48% clip. Dallas likely will have a chance to capitalize on shorter fields this week which typically results in more scoring opportunities.
Just short of tabbing this early game a must-win, the Cowboys have no business losing back to back in two of the easier games on their brutal schedule. This week is a chance to open Cowboys Stadium with a bang and prove last week was a fluke.
Improving to 2-1 overall and 2-1 in the NFC would keep pace with most of the league and also advance them in the conference wins standings. If Dallas could then parlay a victory over the Bears in Week 4, all would be forgotten. Heading into a bye with a 3-1 conference record would be sitting pretty.
However, the Cowboys must focus on one game at a time and get back to the winning side of the equation. Anything less than 100% effort would surely signify that little has changed in the minds of the fans and the general public. This Sunday in Dallas is an opportunity to seize back control of a promising season, or simply submit to the letdown stigma of the past several years. It’s now up to the 2012 Dallas Cowboys to show us what they are made of, and more importantly the commitment and production we have left to look forward to this season.
FINAL PREDICTION: DALLAS 31, TAMPA BAY 20