It’s news when teams rise from ashy to classy, but teams also fall out of the playoffs. For the Dallas Cowboys to stay classy, Jerry Jones must be perfect.
In the league of parity, it takes a lot to rise to the cream of the crop. The NFL’s scheduling is designed to help teams go from worst to first. That seems to be true for everyone except the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns. They are helped by drafting earlier and playing other poor teams.
As a result, there’s typically a churn at the bottom for teams with bad records. On the other end of the spectrum, are tougher opponents a true challenge for upper tier teams? There’s been a constant churn for teams in the NFL playoffs.
Let’s start at the end of the 2011 NFL season. The New York Giants were the league’s Super Bowl champions. They failed to make the playoffs in 2012. I’m going to call these twelve teams: The Originals.
NFC: Seattle, Packers, 49’ers,Vikings, Falcons, Redskins
AFC: Denver, Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Texans, Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens were Super Bowl champions in 2012. They failed to make the playoffs in 2013. There were five new teams in the 2013 NFL playoffs.
NFC: Seattle, Packers, 49’ers, Saints, Eagles, Panthers
AFC: Denver, Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Chargers, Chiefs
The Seattle Seahawks kissed the Lombardi trophy in 2013. They shook the trend and returned to the 2014 NFL playoffs but once again, there were five new playoff teams in 2014.
NFC: Seattle, Packers, Panthers, Cowboys, Lions, Cardinals
AFC: Denver, Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Ravens, Steelers
The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2014. They returned to the 2015 playoffs to challenge five new playoff teams.
NFC: Seattle, Packers, Panthers, Cardinals, Vikings, Redskins
AFC: Denver, Patriots, Bengals, Steelers, Texans, Chiefs
The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015. They failed to make the playoffs in 2016. There were six new playoff teams.
NFC: Seattle, Packers, Cowboys, Falcons, Lions, Giants
AFC: Patriots, Steelers, Texans, Chiefs, Dolphins, Raiders
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The Patriots, Seahawks and Packers are the only teams to make the playoffs every year since 2012. What is their secret? How can the Cowboys become a fixture in the NFL playoffs? The obvious answer is winning, but the NFL is designed for parity.
Our 2014 Cowboys team had climbed from a second place, 8 win season in 2013 to a 12 win season and first place in the division. We can’t ignore the 4 win season of 2015. Quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden weren’t up leading this team to victories against the challenge of a first place schedule.
If or when the Cowboys release the more experienced, cruise missile throwing, veteran quarterback Tony Romo with his 34,183 passing yards and 248 touchdowns, that would leave rookie Hall of Famer Dak Prescott to lead this team in 2017.
The Cowboys finished 2016 ranked 5th in points scored per game (26.6). The Cowboys finished first in rushing attempts per game (30.8) and second in rushing yards (149.1) and that was with a last place schedule. The Cowboys coaching staff will be asking rookie phenom running back Ezekiel Elliott and Prescott to do better against stronger opponents.
With the exclusion of 2015, the NFC East isn’t a weak division. The Cowboys aren’t automatic playoff locks because we don’t have a conference filled with perennially bad teams like the Jaguars, Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears, New York Jets and the 49’ers (no offense).
The 2017 NFL season will be a true test of the Dallas Cowboys. If they make the playoffs against a first place schedule and the tough AFC West with two 12-win teams, then it will prove they belong. Dallas won’t be part of the churn at the top.
You don’t have to go from the top to the bottom like the 49’ers. Bad decisions can cause the Cowboys to fall into the mid-tier team trap that’s mired in mediocrity and become reduced to celebrating 8, 9 and 10-win seasons. That’s why it’s extremely important that owner/general manager Jerry Jones gets this offseason right.