IRVING, Texas --The week of the season finale in New York, amid talk that the Giants were "mentally tougher" than the Cowboys, I argued they were virtually the same team: competitive yet flawed, having given up a lot of big plays and lost a bunch of close games.
The Giants beat Dallas convincingly on Jan. 1, 31-14. Three weeks later, they're one game from the Super Bowl.
Based on that logic, are the Cowboys closer to contention than they're given credit for? Not necessarily. Maybe the Giants are simply riding a hot hand in this "Any Given Sunday" league.
Besides, the Cowboys can't simply assume they're almost there.
This team has many holes that must be plugged between now and next season, particularly on defense and the offensive line. They need better depth across the roster. Can't be content with their personnel.
Like the Giants with Eli Manning, the Cowboys do have a chance to win most games as long as quarterback Tony Romo is playing at a high level. Say what you want about San Francisco and Baltimore reaching championship week, this is now a passing league.
The Giants had 67 pass plays over 20 yards this year to the Cowboys' 57 -- more, but certainly not enough to call Jason Garrett's group offensively challenged. They found great balance when running back DeMarco Murray was healthy, much more than New York did.
The biggest difference between them is the number of pressure players on defense. The Giants have Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, to name a few. They can harrass quarterbacks without blitzing. The Cowboys have DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff. Beyond those two, the pass rush wasn't very consistent in 2011.
Perhaps more than any other factor, if that changes, a Cowboys team that was one game from a division title this year could get back to the postseason next year.