IRVING, Texas –Watching the Giants beat San Francisco 10 days ago was frustrating for Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. No doubt, too, was watching them take their NFC Championship team photo from Media Day in Indianapolis.
This much has been established over the last few years: the best team from September to January isn't guaranteed to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Just get in, and good things can happen.
Look at the last five years. Only once was the conference champion among the top two seeds with a first-round bye.
2011 Giants: No. 4 (9-7)
2010 Packers: No. 6 (10-6)
2009 Saints: No. 1 (13-3)
2008 Cardinals: No. 4 (9-7)
2007 Giants: No. 4 (10-6)
There's one catch, though. For the most part, you better be playing good football going into the tournament. Peaking at the right time – just the way the Giants did last year, and just the way the Packers did in 2010. Both went through a lull in midseason, then won three games in the final month -- including two straight -- to grab a Wild Card spot.
The 2007 Giants, who upset the top-seeded Cowboys in the divisional round, won three of their final five in the regular season. Their narrow Week 17 loss to the 16-0 Patriots might have boosted their confidence most.
Eerily similar was this year's Giants 38-35 loss to the then-undefeated Packers. That competitive finish, as well as some key players getting healthy, sparked their December run that featured two wins over Dallas.
"They're really just like the Green Bay Packers were last year in a different way," Jones said. "They're a real inspiration of frankly what I had hoped that we were going to be and that's a team had good days and bad days but then near the end really took off on a run and really made an improvement."
The Cowboys didn't.
There are exceptions. The 2008 Cardinals limped into the postseason losing four of six. The 2009 top-seeded Saints lost their last three, but with homefield locked up they did choose to rest players after the Cowboys upset them in the Superdome.
But the odds are this: until the Cowboys find a way to play their best football in December, not November, they won't have a chance to play the first weekend in February.