Is it too soon to say if the Cowboys are contenders or pretenders?

Cowboys (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Cowboys (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

Christmas is less than three weeks away. Week 13 is in the books. And, the playoff push is in full effect. Yet, we don’t know for certain whether or not the Dallas Cowboys are serious contenders or just pretenders.

Looking at the landscape of the NFC, I think it is pretty obvious that the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers look like a tough out in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the defending champions and have arguably the best quarterback ever in Tom Brady. That’s three teams squarely in the contender box.

The Los Angeles Rams, even while going through a mini-slump, are a team absolutely no one wants to play in a one-and-done situation. I’m not 100% ready to give them contender status, but I would lean that way.

The Cowboys, however, are legitimately teetering both ways.

Reasons why the Dallas Cowboys could be big-time contenders in the NFL

On one hand, the Cowboys are currently 8-4 with a two-game lead in the division. Even with the Washington Football Team riding a four-game winning streak, it feels like all Dallas will need to do is split the series with them and take care of business against Philadelphia and the Giants to guarantee no worse than the fourth seed.

Dallas also possesses a bevy of stars on the offensive side of the ball that can rival any other team in the league. Quarterback Dak Prescott is running the show and has the Cowboys in the top five in passing offense. The Cowboys also lead the NFL in total yards per game and currently sit second overall in points per game.

Defensively, they are led by two young stars in linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, who are individually wrecking the hopes and dreams of opposing offenses. Parsons has Defensive Rookie of the Year locked down and is in serious contention for Defensive Player of the Year.

Parsons has 72 tackles, 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. He’s been asked to wear many different hats and has done so remarkably all year. Diggs, meanwhile, leads the league in interceptions and defensive touchdowns, which is a huge part of the reason that the Cowboys are in the top five in takeaways.

Reasons why the Dallas Cowboys may just be pretenders this year

On the other hand, the Cowboys have struggled lately, losing three of their last five games. The offense has looked terrible, and the running game is non-existent. In two of those three losses, they never had a lead in the game.

Dallas has also largely feasted on beating bad teams. Only two of their wins came against teams that had a winning record at the time (Week 2 against the Chargers and Week 4 against Carolina). Only two of their wins are against teams with current winning records (the Chargers and Patriots).

When it comes to the defense, players like Parsons, Diggs, and a couple of others (namely safety Jayron Kearse and defensive end Randy Gregory) have individually played well. But, the team has collectively has struggled. The Cowboys give up a lot of yards (currently 27th overall). Most of that comes against the pass (28th overall). Meanwhile, their run defense and scoring defense is squarely average.

Some people would argue that we have not yet seen the best version of this team which is completely accurate. Last week was the first time that the Dallas Cowboys had their intended starting 11 players on offense. This week against Washington may be the first time the same can be said for the defense.

Other people would argue that availability is the best ability, which is also completely accurate. Whether it is due to injuries or a maddening proclivity towards obtaining COVID-19, this team has been incapable of staying healthy.

The Cowboys’ season could go either way at this point

Ultimately, with just five games left in the season, I honestly do not think we have an accurate and fair way to determine if this team is for real or not.

IF this team can win their next three against Washington (twice) and Arizona, that would go a long way. IF this team can stay healthy and find their offensive rhythm, that would certainly make them much more dangerous. IF the Dallas Cowboys continue to be one-dimensional on offense, however, an early playoff exit would not be surprising at all. IF more big names keep missing games or miss the “wrong” game, one and done could be their January itinerary.

Going into Week 14, the NFC has three legitimate contenders and two other teams that can easily join the conversation. The Dallas Cowboys need to close out this season the right way in order to do just that. Only time will tell the story of the 2021 season. But, right now, I do not believe we have enough consistent information to tell whether or not this team is a contender or a pretender.