Skins Might Be Season's Defining Game

advantage in the playoffs. As it turned out, they had to do that to just to win the NFC East.

Then there was the 1997 season, the 6-5 Cowboys going into Green Bay to face the defending Super Bowl champion Packers, who were 8-3 at the time. The Cowboys knew they had to win or else cede home-field advantage to the Packers. The game was tied 10-10 at halftime. The Cowboys would lose, 45-17, and would lose every game thereafter that season.

So here come the 5-4 Cowboys to face the 6-3 Redskins. A Cowboys' victory would leave the two teams tied for no less than second place in the NFC East and at the end of the day no more than one game behind as many as two non-division leaders.

But a Cowboys' loss would leave the Cowboys 5-5, two games behind the Redskins, and worse, three games back when it comes to head-to-head tiebreakers.

A win would finally even their conference record at 4-4, always a prime tiebreaker when it comes to deciding playoff berths. But a loss would leave the Cowboys 3-5 in the NFC with four to play. No team in the NFC at this point with a winning record has more than three NFC losses.

So my drift here should be caught.

This be a mus win, and then so will be at least four more of the next six to reach the 10-win benchmark normally required to make the playoffs.

"It's too hard to look at it that way," Witten said of 10 victories being a must. "But if you win this game, it's a totally different situation than if you lose it."

Thomas, too understands this game's importance, but also realizes the slim difference between 5-4 and well, as he says, "Other cities (at 5-4), they are talking playoffs," Thomas suggests. "Like in Miami, they're talking playoffs.

"We have to get that same excitement going."

And when it was suggested the Cowboys have to win at least 10 to create that playoff excitement, Thomas was hesitant to put a number on it, saying, "Only way you can think like that, it's got to be 11.

"I've been 10-6 before and not made the playoffs. I guarantee you 11-5, I don't know if there has ever been any team 11-5 and hasn't. But I don't look at it like that. I just know we got to get to playing better . . . fast."

Yeah, like starting this Sunday, the Cowboys playing the first of five teams remaining among their final seven with a winning record - and three of those five are either in first place or currently tied for first place (Pittsburgh, the Giants and Baltimore).

Since the Cowboys first went to the playoffs in 1966 with a 10-3-1 record, they have never missed the playoffs when winning 10 games, not in a 14-game season and not in a 16-game season. All four 10-6 finishes in club history have earned the Cowboys a playoff spot, as did all four 10-4 finishes and the one 9-5.

But go 9-7, and things get dicey. Only once did 9-7 land the Cowboys in the playoffs, that occurring in 2006, while 9-7 in 1984 and 2005 earned them a big Heisman from the NFL. And two-games above .500 in the 14-game 1974 season (8-6) wasn't good enough to earn them a playoff spot either.

Yet get this, 8-8 in 1999 got them in, as would have 8-8 in 1990 if they could have won either of their final two games they didn't during that 7-9 season. In fact that year, they came within a 24-yard Morten Anderson field goal in the final two seconds from going to the playoffs at 7-9, the Saints beating the Rams in the absolute final NFL game of the season on Monday Night Football to claim the final spot at 8-8.

So with this record stuff, you just never know; too much football still to be played. But if you like playing the percentages, then the Cowboys got to get cuttin', and as Thomas said, "Fast!"

"If we get the sixth win against Washington, that's the one we're worried about," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said when asked about needing to win at least 10. "You don't know where the number is going to be . . . the only thing you can control is what you do, so we got to control it."

Starting Sunday . . . with the Redskins, by golly.

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