IRVING, Texas – On Tuesday, we reviewed the eight games that lay behind the Cowboys in 2013. There are eight more games to play, and those are the focus today as the team turns toward Minnesota.
It's been an 8-8 franchise in 2011 and 2012, and so far, 2013 is shaping up the same. Not only are the Cowboys 4-4, but they've been 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 before Sunday's heartbreaking loss in Detroit dropped them back to the .500 point once again.
So for the third straight year, it's shaping up like it will go down to the wire. The Cowboys have lost the season finale the last two years with a shot to win the NFC East. They currently lead the division by a game, but certainly a lot can and will happen over the final two months.
With the first eight games of the season in the rearview mirror, it's time to take a look and forecast what's in store for the second half – from big games to new storylines.
Nick:Of course they're all going to be tough. But that Nov. 24 game at New York after the bye could be very telling. Call me crazy, but I'm seeing a 5-5 record for the Cowboys, and going into New York and beating the Giants would be a big step forward in the division race.
Rowan:The game in New York after the bye. If history's any indication, this team will probably be 5-5 heading into the off week. The Giants are surging a bit (in this division, two straight wins is surging), and that game will set the tone for a tough final stretch.
Bryan:You could pick any of the divisional games, but that game in Chicago will have a lot on the line. I feel like the New Orleans and Green Bay games will be difficult to win because of the opposing quarterbacks, but a Bears team that is in similar shape is a game you cannot lose.
David:Third time's a charm, right? It's hard to predict eight weeks of games on Oct. 31, but I have a feeling the Cowboys will be hovering right on the edge of the playoffs – 8-7 or 7-8 – heading into the Week 17 game against Philadelphia. Win and you're in.
Need More From
Nick:This offense needs more from Jason Witten, who is right now on pace for a 74-catch, 806-yard season. Those are good-tight end numbers. But Witten has shown us he's great. It's not all on Witten, but the offense needs to focus more on getting him the rock.
Rowan:DeMarcus Ware. Miles Austin could be a close runner-up on this list, but this defense is in need of a spark, particularly on the line. Everyone at training camp and in the preseason saw that Ware can thrive in this defense when healthy. If he can get healthy again, it would be a huge boost.
Bryan:When he comes back into the lineup, I need more from DeMarcus Ware. Whether it's six or seven games, Ware is going to have to be a difference maker on a defense that is desperate for a player that can make game changing plays.
David:DeMarco Murray ran for 72 yards in the month of October. I realize he was hurt for half of that time, but that speaks to the biggest knock against him – his durability. He appears to be rounding back into good health, and the Cowboys need him to play like it.
Ready To Break Out
Nick:I know it was just one game in the regular season, but there's something about Jeff Heath that intrigues me. And we saw it in the preseason, too. I'm not sure – right now – that Heath isn't better than J.J. Wilcox. The more he plays, the better I think Heath will be.
Rowan:We've seen what he can do in tight spaces, but the trick for Cole Beasley is consistency. He's on the verge of being a pivotal difference maker on the offense and has skills in the slot that are unparalleled on the team. The Cowboys need to figure out a way to use those skills every week.* *
Bryan:It is time for a healthy Lance Dunbar to start making some huge plays for this offense. We saw flashes in camp and during the Lions game. Bill Callahan needs to get him the ball now.
David:I don't know if the term "break out" is a fair one for Mackenzy Bernadeau, because he started a full season last year and three games in 2013. But I think he's up to the task of filling in, and doing well, for Brian Waters. The drop off won't be the catastrophe some seem to be bracing for.
Don't Be Surprised If …
Nick:Based off his return ability and/or his coverage skills, don't be surprised if Dwayne Harris makes the Pro Bowl. He's had some dynamic returns already, and he's done them in big moments. He's also covering kicks, as well. A few more big-time returns and Harris could be Hawaii bound
Rowan:Once again, the final Cowboys game determines the winner of the NFC East. Last year, the Cowboys fell to 8-8 with a loss against the Redskins to drop the division title. This year, an 8-8 record could seal the division in Week 17 against an Eagles team also fighting for the top spot.
Bryan: Jeff Heath continues to see time at safety even when J.J. Wilcox returns from his sprained knee. I believe these coaches have a great deal of confidence in Heath's ability to handle the job.
David:Oakland comes into Arlington and knocks off the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Seeing Terrelle Pryor break off a 93-yard touchdown against Pittsburgh was pretty unsettling. He could give this defense absolute fits. The Raiders looked like a guaranteed win when the schedule came out, but now I'm not so sure.
Rookie MVP Will Be
Nick:I think the best rookie will be Travis Frederick. Obviously, Terrance Williams will have more stats – that was a given after the first game. But to come in and start right away is a big thing. Now he's got to step up with Waters out. He's been impressive from the jump.
Rowan:I'm tempted to say Travis Frederick, but I'm going with Terrance Williams. The injury to Austin brought the rookie into the spotlight, and he hasn't shied away from it. The jump Williams has made in just a few short works has been nothing short of amazing. * *
Bryan: Travis Frederick is my guy despite the growth each week of Terrance Williams. Frederick has had his moments of some rough play but overall, he has been rock solid in the middle.
David:It's got to be Travis Frederick. Terrance Williams is certainly having a heck of a debut season, but it's a safe bet his touchdown streak stops one of these weeks, and he's going to have some off days. Frederick has his hand on the ball every play and has been impressive. [embedded_ad]
Final Record Will Be
Nick:I just don't know any other way. Sure, I'd like to say it won't be 8-8, but of course it will be. Not only has it been that way for two straight years, but they've been 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 and now 4-4. How can you tell me it won't be that way? I see them beating Minnesota, Oakland, Chicago and Philly and losing to the Saints, Giants, Packers and Redskins.
Rowan:8-8, starting with a 5-5 record heading into the bye week. We've had no reason to think otherwise since 2011, and it's been the definition of mediocrity this year, going from 1-1 to 2-2 to 3-3, and now to 4-4.
Bryan:Health down the stretch will be the key here, but of the eight games they have left, they find a way to win 5 of them and finish the season at 9-7.
David:I thought 10-6 when the season started, but I thought the Cowboys needed to jump out to a winning record in the more manageable first half. They didn't do it, and now the schedule gets tougher. I think we're looking at 8-8 with the Cowboys winning the division on the last day of the season.