A couple of weeks ago, it felt like the Dallas Cowboys' 2019 season was over. Falling to the Buffalo Bills at home and on the road versus the Chicago Bears on back-to-back weeks truly made it look like this team wasn't made to contend in the NFC. Both losses came in tough games to watch, with poor coaching and execution in display.
But expectations took an interesting turn when the Cowboys beat the Los Angeles Rams 44-21 last Sunday. It was an unexpected turn of events, since Dallas went from having no wins against a winning team to completely dominating the Rams on both sides of the ball.
Out of nowhere, we witnessed what felt like the Cowboys should've been all year long.
Two weeks separate us from now and the end of the 2019 NFL regular season. For the Cowboys, things have not gone as expected. At 7-7, they've had a rough season. Even though the Philadelphia Eagles were the favorites to win the NFC East, I'm sure no one expected to see both of these teams where they're at right now. Both have been disappointing… a lot.
Well, maybe we thought they'd be playing for the division title in week 16, but not with seven wins apiece. Not after a couple of mediocre seasons.
In the case of the Cowboys, fans really don't know how to manage expectations after watching them defeat the Rams.
After all, the Cowboys can play at the level they did last week. With that level of dominance, one has to think they'd be capable of beating any team in the NFL. But at the same time, it's impossible to deny that they simply haven't been that team in 2019.
They've made mistakes on offense and defense and at times, even the best players have looked bad. Dak Prescott entered a three-week slump after being a legitimate MVP candidate for the first half of the year. Amari Cooper has been a non-factor at times among many other players who have failed short of the expectations.
The question is how hard will it be for Jason Garrett's team to click in every cylinder like they did against the Rams?
Expectations should likely change little after last week. Yes, they looked great last Sunday. Yes, they should've played like that all year. But no, they haven't.
They haven't even clinched their division despite playing in an NFC East that has no winning team through 15 weeks. Assuming they make the playoffs, they'd have to host a wildcard game before going on the road against teams like the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints or Seattle Seahawks.
Hope springs eternal for us football fans, and with a little bit of luck this team might just prove us wrong. However, our expectations should likely remain the same. The Cowboys have talent, but they haven't been constant enough to trust them to make a legitiame run.
If they do, it'll be because of a variety of reasons. First of all, I'd point toward the offense. If Ezekiel Elliott can run the ball the way he did against Los Angeles while Dak Prescott makes the throws he's been making most of the season, few defenses will be able to stop them. Especially with the offensive line playing at an elite level.
An improved defense would surely help, but the Cowboys would need to get considerably healthier if they want to make it deep into January. Leighton Vander Esch will miss his fifth straight game while Sean Lee is playing as a starter and dealing with injuries. Not to mention, it seems like Cooper has been playing hurt all season and Dak is now dealing with his fair share of issues.
It won't be easy, but after all, the team has a talented roster filled with quality football players. They have the NFC's third best point differential and one of the league's second best offense according to DVOA.
Their record is ugly and as Bill Parcels put it “you're what your record says you are.” But can they be the ugly dark horse in the NFC Playoffs? Maybe.
The first step toward making it possible will be earning a ticket to the postseason by beating the Eagles in Philly next Sunday.
It ain't over 'til it's over. Go Cowboys!