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Let's Be Real

not dealing in ifs and buts, but maybe not as dark as the looming cloud of losing to Philadelphia 34-7 would suggest. Think of it this way: Starting Sunday, the Cowboys will play three of their next four games at home – Seattle, Buffalo and Miami on Thanksgiving – the lone away game at Washington. That also means playing teams with losing records in three of the next four games (Seattle, Washington, Miami) and actually four of the next five if we include Arizona (1-6).

So here's the deal: Circle Buffalo, next Sunday. Then circle at Tampa Bay on Dec. 17. Because I'm guessing you had the Cowboys beating Seattle, sweeping the Redskins and beating Miami and Arizona. Then, if we're being reasonable, winning one if not two of the three games remaining with the Giants and Eagles.

That would mean the upcoming tipping games would be home against Buffalo and the game at Tampa Bay. Buffalo right now is 5-2, Tampa Bay 4-3. At some point, if you are going to be a playoff team then you've got to beat teams with winning records, and not slip up against the teams with losing records.

Well, to date, the Cowboys have beaten only one team with a winning record (San Francisco 6-1) and have lost to every other team they've played that currently has a winning record (Jets 4-3, Lions 6-2, Patriots 5-2). They have beaten two of the three teams they have played with a losing record (Redskins 3-4, Rams 1-6), falling to the Eagles (3-4).

So to me, Buffalo and Tampa Bay will become the swing games this season, ones you probably weren't quite sure beforehand if they would win or lose but now would seemingly have to win if our previous projections hold true and the Cowboys are to land a playoff spot for the third time in five years.

But as we are constantly reminded this season, winning games in the NFL is not easy, even the ones everyone expects you to win. Go ask the Saints, having lost to "the Rams, dude," last Sunday. Go ask the Ravens, having lost to Jacksonville two Sundays ago. Go ask the Giants, having lost to these very same Seattle Seahawks a month ago, and at home to boot.

And Sunday will not be as easy as everyone would like, especially since the Cowboys will be without Sean Lee (wrist), Felix Jones (ankle) and Mike Jenkins (hamstring), and there is an increasing possibility of being without punter Mat McBriar (peroneal nerve), depending on how he feels on Saturday, and that would be a bad deal when having to face Seattle kick returner Leon Washington. That very well could be four starters missing.

Plus, this all becomes increasingly more difficult if the Cowboys still are wallowing in either self-pity or are suffering an absence of confidence following last Sunday night's thrashing in Philly.

"If you let losses affect you long term," Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears says, "you might as well turn your uniform in. It's football, man."

Yep, it is football, real football, and you got to keep grinding, even if you blow a game to the Lions or get wiped out by the Eagles. In 1991, before the Cowboys were the '90s Team of the Decade, they hit a stretch where they had lost three of four, including getting blown out by the Lions, 34-10, and were but 6-5 with 4½ games to go when quarterback Troy Aikman suffered a sprained knee early in the third quarter of that Game 12 against Washington, the eventual Super Bowl champs.

Well, you know the rest of the story. They won five straight to qualify as a wild-card team, their first playoff appearances since 1985. And they even went on the road to beat Chicago in the first round.

Now, I'm not saying history will repeat itself 20 years later. But I'm just sayin', as Rob Ryan said on Friday, "(Stuff) happens sometimes" in the NFL.

Keeping the Cowboys about where you thought they'd be at the halfway point, if you're being honest.

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