As we near the midway point of the 2017 NFL seasons, the Dallas Cowboys sit at 3-3 and second place in the NFC East. While there are still plenty of games left to be played, they’re already facing some distance from the division-leading Philadelphia Eagles and their 6-1 record. Closing the gap will not be easy.
Dallas and Philadelphia will not meet until the Week 11 home game for the Cowboys. Just looking at the schedules between now and then, the Eagles have a much easier road.
The Cowboys’ next three games are at Washington, home for the Chiefs, and at Atlanta. The Eagles have two home games against the 49ers and Broncos, and then their bye week. The difference in those two schedules is pretty jarring.
Just thinking about the odds here, the most likely scenario is that Philadelphia will be 8-1 and rested up when they head to Dallas. The Cowboys would be doing well to win two of these three tough games, so let’s say they’re 5-4 by the time the Eagles arrive.
Even if Dallas runs the table, that’s still just a 6-3 record. Even if they then beat the Eagles, they’re still a game back.
That’s a lot of “even ifs.”
Barring a stunning collapse by Philadelphia this season, the Cowboys are going to need to win almost every game the rest of the way to have a shot at winning the NFC East. The Eagles may be damaged going forward by the losses of left tackle Jason Peters and linebacker Jordan Hicks, but they still have an emerging superstar quarterback and a solid roster. They still project as an 11 or 12-win team.
Dallas will have to win 8-9 of their remaining 10 games to stay in that range. As we already outlined, they have a tough stretch ahead and it won’t get easier the rest of the season. After Week 11 they have the Chargers, Raiders, and Seahawks on the schedule along with their rematches against all three NFC East rivals.
Obviously, the Cowboys can’t just rely on winning their two games against the Eagles. They have to at least win one more than Philly the rest of the way to finish with a tied overall record.
The point of this article isn’t looking at possibilities but probabilities. I know fully well that the Cowboys won 11-straight last season on the way to their 13-3 record. Can they still be 13-3 in 2017? Sure! It’s possible.
What’s probable, though, is that Dallas will drop at least a couple of their remaining 10 games. Even if they sweep the Eagles this year, any losses may rob them of the chance to close the gap and still take the division.
Of course, if Dallas narrowly misses out of the division title then they probably are still looking good for a Wild Card spot. But we all went into 2017 wanting to see the Cowboys be the first back-to-back champion in the NFC East since 2004. More importantly, we want the home-field advantage that comes with it.
The Cowboys are certainly still a major NFC contender, but they spent the early part of this year destroying their cushion. Now they have to finish with nearly flawless football if they want to have any shot at winning the NFC East and being in a power position for January.