The Dallas Cowboys have jumped out to a fast 6-2 start which included winning six straight games from week 2 to week 8. As a result, Dallas finds itself with some breathing room at the top of the NFC East. They hold a 2.5 game lead in the division with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants both being 3-6.
Consequently, there is little reason to believe that the Cowboys won’t make the playoff this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense have been better than ever, except for this past Sunday, and the defense has been much improved from a season ago, thanks to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Prescott has thrown for 2,045 yards, 18 touchdowns while only throwing five interceptions. Not only has the former fourth-round pick been exceptional but so has the running game. The Cowboys rank third in rush yards per game (142.8) and tied for fourth in yards per carry (4.9). Both running backs Ezekiel Elliott (5th) and Tony Pollard (23th) rank in the top 25 in rush yards this season.
Despite the terrible offensive performance against the Denver Broncos, this offense is still one of the best in the league. Their 30.1 points per game are the third-highest in the league behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (32.5) and Arizona Cardinals (30.8).
On the other side, the defense has been much better than people had probably imagined. Although the Dallas Cowboys rank towards the bottom of the league in yards per play allowed (6.0), they have cleaned up many things on the defensive side especially in the run game.
A season ago, this run defense gave up 158.8 yards on the ground per game, now that number is at 101.0. The improvement of the run defense could be because of Dallas’ offense controlling most of the game and getting out to early leads. However, this unit is only giving up 4.3 yards per carry compared to 5.0 last season.
With the Cowboys’ early success, it’s never too early to look ahead to the postseason. As a matter of fact, FiveThirtyEight gives Dallas a 95 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 91 percent chance to win the division. However, they only give America’s Team a 6 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, the fifth-best odds in the NFC.
Why do the Dallas Cowboys have such low odds?
If there is such thing as the worst-case scenario for the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs, it would be finishing as the 4th seed in this year’s playoffs. The good news for them is that they would get a home playoff game in front of their fans. The bad news, they would likely have to face the second-place finisher in the NFC West (Arizona Cardinals or Los Angeles Rams) in the Wild Card round.
A playoff game against either one of those teams is probably going to give Dallas a hard time, even at home. Both the Rams and Cardinals have elite offenses and defenses that rank in the top 12. The Rams have the 12th best defense in terms of yards allowed per game (348.2) and the 4th best offense in terms of total yards (399.3). They’ve also just recently acquired three-time All-Pro, defensive end Von Miller.
As for the Cardinals, they have the 4th best defense (321.0 yards allowed/game) and the 5th best offense (398.4 total yards/game). On the other hand, Dallas has the best offense (434.2 total yards/game) and the 21st best defense (371.5 yards allowed/game). The Dallas Cowboys will have the opportunity to play the Cardinals though in week 17 at home, a game that could play a factor in the seeding.
With the NFC being so stacked, five of the top seven teams in the NFL come from the NFC side, it would be a tough draw for the Cowboys in the four spot. Essentially, Dallas would have to beat three of the top four teams in the NFC, assuming there are no upsets in the Wild Card round, to make it to the Super Bowl.
Cowboys’ fans around the league would probably much rather open Super Wild Card Weekend with a game against the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints than against the Rams or Cardinals.
However, if the Cowboys want to be the best then they have to beat the best and that will give them every opportunity to do so with the fouth seed. A big win in the Wild Card round could give Dallas all the momentum in the world and carry them right into the Super Bowl.
Nonetheless, there is a lot of football left in the season and anything can happen. It’s going to be interesting to see how the NFC shakes up, but one thing is certain, the NFC playoffs are going to be one wild ride.