Auping: Even After Rough Start, Division Still Open For Dallas

IRVING, Texas -It seems crazy to say, but the Cowboys are just a few fingertips away from the division lead.

Technically they are two wins behind the New York Giants (6-4) in the standings. But three weeks ago, against those very same Giants, Dez Bryant made an incredible catch to win the game and cap off a 23-point comeback. Only his fingertips landed out of bounds. The instant replay confirmed just that and the Cowboys supposedly conceded the division to New York.

Fast forward three weeks later. If Bryant had been able to make that miraculous catch then the Giants and Cowboys would be tied in the win column of NFC East. It has become that close.

It would be nice to be able to say that inspiring play and huge momentum shifts have the Cowboys nipping at the heels of the Giants. Unfortunately that's not completely true. The fact is that the Giants are in their worst slump of the season and refuse to run away with the division.

After a great start to the season, Eli Manning has had his three worst games of the year in the Giants' last three games including losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and barely surviving the previously mentioned 23-point comeback of the Cowboys. In the three games, Manning's highest quarterback rating was 58.4. Tony Romo's lowest QB rating of the season was 58.3.

The Giants will enter their bye week this week, but things will not get any easier from there. Their next game is a matchup with the Packers, who have won four of their last five games.

As mediocre as the Cowboys have looked at times this season, those who already gave up on them may have spoken far too soon. No team in the NFL is easy to beat, but it's hard to argue with the fact that the Cowboys' remaining schedule is much more favorable than the Giants.

The combined record of the teams on the Cowboys' remaining schedule is 24-38. On the other hand, the combined record of the teams on the Giants' (who have one less game due to their upcoming bye) remaining schedule is 31-23.

Going forward, the Cowboys will be favored to win more of their upcoming games than the Giants will. If the Cowboys simply beat the teams who they have a better record than, then the division race will likely come down to the wire.

In fact, let's run through a quick list of hypotheticals for the next two weeks. Just for the sake of argument, let's assume the Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns this Sunday while the Giants are on a bye. Then they follow that up by beating the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. Both teams will present challenges, but the Cowboys have a better record than both so it's certainly not an extremely unlikely scenario. Then the following Sunday, if the Giants happen to lose to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers then Dallas and New York will be tied for the division lead.

Of course, there is not guarantee that things play out that way, but it just goes to show how quickly things can change and that a close division race is much more than just a possibility. The Giants also still have teams like Atlanta and Baltimore remaining on their schedule.

It was a tough first half of the season to the Cowboys and they certainly gave people reason to criticize their performances. But you can guarantee no one in the Cowboys' organization has given up hope just yet. There are still plenty of relevant football games left to play.

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