The Dallas Cowboys have been a mainstay in the NFC East since the division inception but did the NFL make a mistake by leaving them there?
The Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East is something that we rarely look at and say “this team seems out of place”. But should we?
Before the 2002 season, the NFL realigned the divisions after the expansion of the Houston Texans created the opportunity to make four divisions in each conference. The major shift sent the Arizona Cardinals out of the NFC East and into the NFC West making it a four-team race in every division.
Now, I think the purpose of the division shifts was to ensure that travel between division rivals would be minimal. If you look at the NFC North, all four teams (Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings) are geographically located in the northern part of the country. The NFC and AFC West teams also make geographical sense.
Divisions are meant to be geographically located at a reasonable distance so that fans can not only attend rivalry games but be close enough that rivalries establish themselves within a certain area. So how does the NFL figure Cowboy fans can attend games in the Northeast portion of the country when America’s Team reside in Texas?
The NFL dodged a bullet with this since the Cowboys are the most popular and most polarizing team on the face of the Earth. Not to mention that they have an abundance of fans who reside in almost every crack of this great nation, which makes it possible for them to regularly flood opposing stadiums.
This brings me to the Cowboys being in the NFC East. Specifically, what I believe to be a travel disadvantage they carry within the division. It’s hard to say which airport each team will depart from, so I use home stadiums as the distance traveled.
When the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants travel to play each other, the maximum distance by any team is 220 miles, when the Giants play the Redskins. The least traveled game is when New York plays Philly, which is a mere 96 miles traveled.
When the Cowboys have to travel, the least amount of miles logged is when they travel to Washington which is a staggering 1,368 miles. The most they have to travel is 1,566 miles when they fly to New York and face the Giants.
Now, it’s true that their opponents have to travel the same distance to Dallas. But the Cowboys have to do this three times a season while all of their divisional foes only have to do it once. How nice would it be if divisional travel times were a mere 96 miles?
Look at this year’s schedule, for example. In Week Seven, the Cowboys travel to Washington. They then have to travel to Philadelphia for a Week 8 primetime matchup. Round trips to both opposing stadiums and back to AT&T Stadium twice is over 5,500 travel miles. All in the span of what will likely be seven days.
In a perfect world, the NFL would simply place the Cowboys in the NFC South division, swapping them with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers’ furthest game would be 625 miles against the New York Giants. Not exactly close for fans but also not a cross country commute to attend a game if you wanted to watch a divisional contest without going bankrupt.
Now, this would put the Cowboys in same division with the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Dallas’s furthest game would be against the Bucs at a more slightly reasonable 1,129 miles. But the Cowboys’ other divisional matchups would be travel distances of only 523 miles (Saints) and 880 miles (Falcons).
I can see the Bucs game being somewhat of a speed bump in this proposed scenario. But also keep in mind that each team would only have to travel this distance once as opposed to having the Cowboys travel over 1,350 miles for every single road divisional game.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the history behind playing longtime foes like the Eagles, Redskins, and Giants. The Seattle Seahawks likely felt the same before moving from the AFC to the NFC, which now feels like they belong. Ironically, the expansion New Orleans Saints were in the same division as the Cowboys originally.
In a day and age where every team is seeking any advantage over their opponent, I don’t believe it’s fair that the Dallas Cowboys have to travel as much as they do in order to remain in the NFC East division. But what do you think? Tell me your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below.