December's demons lay waiting. The Cowboys must exorcize a litany of ghosts from seasons past to get to the postseason, and pretty much all hopes hinge on Thursday in Chicago.
Yes, that Chicago, where exactly a year ago Dallas suffered a blustery blistering at the hands of Jay Cutler and his big receivers, and a running attack that carved the Cowboys into nothing more than a sinewy bone left for the dogs. It seemed a million to nothing that night, and it wasn't that close.
Dallas must exact revenge in three days, then do it again for Thanksgiving's turkey, and a third time against Colt McCoy in Week 17. Add to that a single home game against the Colts, which look a lot like Philly in weaponry and might be the toughest game left.
The stench behind it all is 15 years of December disappointments and folly that hang over this team and this quarterback like too much coffee and cigarettes. It's older and more tired to talk about than “Jerry-the-owner-needs-to-fire-Jerry-the-GM”.
At 8-4, it shouldn't be this precarious, but it is. There's a long list of NFC teams at 7-5 or better to gobble up the six playoff spots, and one of them will go to the hapless winner of the NFC South, which is sub-.500 across the board. Oh, to be 8-4 and in the AFC. Wishful thinking will do Dallas no good at this point.
All the scenarios says the season hinges Thursday in Chicago. It appears it'll take 11-5 to get Dallas in the playoffs because the Cowboys lose virtually every tiebreaker at 10-6. Only head-to-head with Seattle looks to lean Dallas' way, and the three-team tiebreakers are not looking good at all.
The positive outlook rests in a win against very beatable Chicago, then extra time to prepare for that Eagles offense in Philly, where Romo and Dallas often play well. The NFL gave Dallas a brutal hand trying to get ready for that clown show in a short week following a Sunday night game and four-hour flight home the weekend prior.
Just getting that elusive 9th win should provide a bounce in Dallas' step. Then, Philly is plenty beatable with ample time to prepare and rest. (It's Mark Sanchez for crying out loud.) At 10-4, this team would take flight and be a lot to reckon with the rest of the way.
The flip side, however, is the unimaginable. A loss Thursday could tailspin this season into a dangerous path to a fourth consecutive 8-8. What a calamitous offseason would follow that epic collapse from a team that was once 6-1 and floating on the clouds after dominating Seattle in their nest.
The ebb and flow of 2014 says this team is different, not just in style and substance, but quality throughout. There's sound reason to believe this team will answer this calling, get itself into another win-and-in game in Week 17, and handle Washington easily for a playoff spot. A little help from Seattle this weekend might even give Dallas the East in the end.
It's important to remember the kind of seasons the Giants, Panthers, Texans, etc, are having. Opportunity always lies out there in the swamp with the alligators, not on the front porch with the rocking chair and iced tea.
It's time to get this done. Exorcise all this now so our heads don't spin through another offseason and beyond.