All sixteen regular season games count the same. A win in September means exactly the same as a win in December. Just as a touchdown in the first quarter counts for the same number of points as a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
While factually accurate, we know these statements aren't totally true. Championship teams often “hit their stride” in November and December, as they close out divisions, clinch playoff births, and prove they can stay cool and claim victory when the pressure mounts to its highest peak.
Under Jason Garrett, and Wade Phillips before him, the Cowboys have developed the reputation of not “winning the big one.” In particular, they've been labeled as a team that “chokes” in December. Tony Romo dealt with his fair share of December/January demons during his career, but overcame them towards his final seasons. Dak Prescott has yet to advance past the Divisional Round of the postseason himself, but the narrative around the Cowboys has seemed to change.
Now, due to their late season run and victory over the Seattle Seahawks last season, people see Prescott and the Cowboys as a team that can find ways to win. A team, and a quarterback, who may not be as prolific as some of the other top squads in the conference, but one that you can never count out. I'd argue this has been the case with Dallas for quite some time under Garrett, but it is only now the narrative has changed.
Their late season fortitude will be tested again in 2019, however.
The NFL released the official schedule for the 2019 NFL season earlier this week, with the Cowboys getting some favorable (and some not-so-favorable) draws. What jumped off the page immediately to me, however, is how tough their final four games will be. And, of course, how critical victories in those games will be to gaining an NFC playoff spot.
Among those four December games are trips to Chicago and Philadelphia, two playoff teams a year ago who present problems in different ways. The Bears, known for their talented defense and innovative play-caller, and the Eagles, the always tough divisional foe.
Dallas also gets two home games during this stretch, hosting the Los Angeles Rams week 15, and finishing out the year against the Washington Redskins. The Rams, of course, eliminated the Cowboys from the postseason a year ago, and are expected to be one of the conference's best again.
The Cowboys will face a first-place schedule in 2019, and will have to prove that they are playoff-worthy down the stretch in December.