FRISCO, TX — So, what happens next here, Dallas Cowboys? The streak of avoiding two consecutive losses that extended back to November 2021 is over, and the narrative regarding an inability to defeat top teams on the road is anything but — the next chance to do so being when the season is on the line in January.
So … what's next?
Re-establishing momentum for the playoffs, hopefully, so they'll need to figure out the Newtonian equation of 'p = mv' (momentum equals mass times velocity) or, more accurately, they'll need to apply the force needed to change the direction of their current momentum from negative to positive — which would be 'F = ma' (force equals mass times acceleration).
In layman's terms, get it together and win these next two games. The football science behind it is proven methodology, despite those who believe momentum isn't a real thing in sports.
History doesn't lie. People simply lie about history.
The loss to the Miami Dolphins was eerily similar to the one in Philadelphia against the Eagles, in my mind's eye, considering it was a winnable game that was never out of reach but that devolved into a narrow loss due to stretches of droughts in production and untimely penalties; the two biggest drivers behind the fact the Cowboys are now 3-5 on the road.
"I guess it feeds [the narrative], we didn't come out with the win." - Dak Prescott
There's not a damn thing they can do about their road woes this week, though, as they prepare to try and lengthen their winning streak at home to 16 games (and 8-0 on the season); and against a more-than-capable team in the Detroit Lions who, in 2023, is one of the best in the league.
It's all about this game, and only this game, and the focus needs to be exactly that pinpointed over the next several days. The last thing the Cowboys can afford to do is to back their way into the playoffs, because it rarely works out for teams that do. When the 9-7 Giants stunned the world and won the Super Bowl in 2011, they did so after losing five of six games from Week 10 through Week 15.
They then won their final two regular season games, and that sparked an explosion that created a wave of momentum, carrying them through the entire postseason and to a Lombardi trophy.
That's the good news, in that the Cowboys have a chance to use a two-game win streak to enter the playoffs and do some damage, but the bad news is the Giants won the NFC East in 2011, despite being 9-7 and, as such, played their first outing in the tournament at home.
And while the door isn't closed on Dallas' chances of taking the division crown in 2023, time is running out on their ability to do so.
If they win their final two regular season games and the Eagles lose to either the Kyler Murray-led Cardinals or the (likely) Tyrod Taylor-led Giants (the ones who nearly mounted a comeback in Philadelphia in Week 16, mind you), the Cowboys will win the NFC East.
Ah, yet another reason to win these next two contests.
"We have to play better than we did. We have to play above it on the road. Road warriors we will be." - Mike McCarthy
However, as it stands, the Cowboys squandered another opportunity this past weekend at inching toward the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, seeing as the San Francisco 49ers lost to the Baltimore Ravens; which means a Cowboys' victory would've created a four-way tie in the NFC with overall record at 11-4 — alongside the 49ers, Eagles and the very team from Detroit that'll fly into the Metroplex this week for a fight on Saturday night.
Mike McCarthy's band of currently unmerry men will need to win out and then get help in order to take the No. 1 seed, or possibly the No. 2 seed, for that matter.
Remaining schedule for top NFC teams:
- 49ers: Commanders (Away), Rams (Home)
- Eagles: Cardinals (Home), Giants (Away)
- Lions: Cowboys (Away), Vikings (Home)
- Cowboys: Lions (Home), Commanders (Away)
It's feasible the Commanders could at least give the 49ers a scare, but more possible the red-hot Rams walk into Santa Clara and deliver an upsetting blow to their bitter rivals.
The Eagles have shown they can lose in December, and two opponents who can hand them an upset await, whilst the Cowboys can hand the Lions a loss and then simply work to sweep a Commanders team they handled easily not long ago.
That is all to say there's still a lot that will be fleshed out over the next two weeks, but the common denominator for the Cowboys is that they can't afford to drop another one.
Sure, they're already in the playoffs at, at worst, they'll be locked into the No. 5 seed and preparing to visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they did last January, albeit against Baker Mayfield this time and not Tom Brady (careful though, because any given Sunday, and whatnot).
"It's about moving forward and understanding what's ahead of us." - Dak Prescott
But if they lose against the Lions, they'll hand the division to the Eagles (which guarantees Philly at least one home game) and find themselves on a three-game losing streak as well — something that is unheard of nowadays in the McCarthy era. If they defeat the Lions but then go on to lose to the Commanders, it'll be Philly taking the division in that scenario as well, assuming they didn't lose out to end the regular season.
The latter would also give the Cowboys a record on the road of 3-6 ahead of the playoffs, and that's nauseating to consider, when factoring in what their path to Las Vegas would be.
Yes, the playoff seeding gymnastics can read like a floor exercise from Simone Biles, but I tend to focus on the simplest part of it: the Cowboys need momentum for the playoffs, period, and it can only be generated by protecting home field in Week 17 and then improving their road record in Week 18.
The rest will reveal itself, in due time, but it'll all be a product of whatever the Cowboys do, or do not do, between now and the eighth day of January, multiplied by whatever else happens in the NFC.