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Spagnola: Cowboys A Cautionary Tale For Those Who Think They Know It All

IRVING, Texas– And on second thought …

         Who knew the Dallas Cowboys would finish the 2014 season with a 12-4 record, their 18th NFC East Division title and their 34th franchise playoff victory?

         Guarantee you, not a soul. You neither. And to think AT&T Stadium those first three home games against San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston was overrun with 'dem others fans, thanks to so many Cowboys fans thinking they had better cut their losses by selling off tickets in advance of impending doom.

         In fact, randomly canvassing 10 sites for their 2014 NFC East predictions, from something called (I'm guessing a gambling site) all the way to FoxSports, including such esteemed outlets as *Sports Illustrated, ESPN, CBSSports, USA Today, *oh, and something called *FiveThirtyEight *(who knows), only three of the 10 predicted the Cowboys to finish as high as second in the East, but five foresaw the Cowboys finishing dead last, even behind the Redskins.

         Now I've previously outed myself on my 2014 Cowboys prediction, the one made right here on Sept. 7, the Friday before the season began, and here are the final graphs excerpted from that column:

         That's a lot of ifs needing affirmative answers for this all to work.

*         If the Cowboys win a majority of these ifs, then 9-7 is not out of the question, maybe even better with this offense.*

*         If not, can't even break even on those many ifs, then there will be no more than seven wins, maybe even fewer despite this projected offense's goodness.*

*         So as you can see, this whole thing will come down to this defense going from just awful last year to at least average this year, same place we were when training camp began.*

*         But unfortunately, we really just don't know … yet.*

*         Thanks goodness the seeing vividly begins on Sunday.*

         Well, as it turned out, the seeing did not begin in earnest until the Sunday after that, after the false start against San Francisco, when the majority of those ifs we had discussed, if not all, began rendering positive answers, about as improbable as you having this week's winning Powerball numbers and having decided not to go to work since.

         Looking back can be awfully dangerous … and humbling … one of the reasons Twitter accounts should come with filters, and at least a 30-second delay for reconsider possibilities before pushing Tweet.

         Like, could we get a show of hands on …

         Who said the Cowboys fouled up when selecting offensive rookie of the year candidate Zack Martin in the first round of the draft instead of Johnny Football?

         Who said Jason Garrett, selected the NFC East Coach of the Year, will be one of the first coaches on *The Hot *Seat to be fired in 2014?

         Who said Tony Romo, finishing with the NFL's highest passer rating in 2014, would not finish the season because of his surgically repaired back?

         Who said DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher in 2014, could not be trusted to stay healthy?

         Who said the Cowboys, who scored the franchise's second-most points in a single season in 2014 (467, just 12 short of the 1983 record) had become "dysfunctional" after hiring Scott Linehan to be the "offensive play-caller," insisting adding him to Garrett and offensive coordinator (in title only) Bill Callahan would only give them too many cooks in the kitchen?

         Who said linebacker Anthony Hitchens, the fourth-round selection who ended up becoming just the fifth Cowboys rookie with at least 100 tackles (100 on the money) and finishing third on the team after starting 11 games – at least once at all three linebacker spots – was woefully over-drafted, that you don't draft backups in the fourth round?

          Who said Rod Marinelli, the new defensive coordinator who made a major impact on this team in 2014, was part of the problem with this defense in 2013 and would not make a significant difference?

         Oh, and those who bought into the theory that a team going winless in preseason, as the Cowboys did (0-4), could not possibly finish with a winning record?

         And who said the Cowboys defense, going from the worst defense in franchise history in 2013 to 19th this year and second in takeaways, would be even worse in 2014?

         See what I mean? Dealing in absolutes can be mighty dangerous, at least if you like to be right, or, and this is always key on many a sporting decision, if you happen to put your money where your mouth is.

         That's why the NFL, and athletics in general, is the greatest reality show going, as is known to be said by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, voted NFL Executive of the Year that I'm sure everyone anticipated. We think we know, but who really knows? Why, there were some predicting Tampa Bay would make the greatest turnaround this 2014 season. Oops. Two guys in particular, those talking heads named Skip and Stephen A., actually agreed on something for a change before the season began: That Washington would win the NFC East. Triple-oops.

         Vegas was not built upon the money of those winning bets.

         Let this all serve as a cautionary tale for the future, and one helping guard against buying into perceptions or trends, as I'm sure is going to happen this coming season. You know, the Cowboys went 12-4, won the division and a playoff game so that means in 2015 they should go 13-3, win the division again and go to the NFC title game – at least.

         Doesn't work that way in the NFL. One year does not beget the next. Right, examples A-B-C being the Cowboys from 2013 to 2014.

         Or maybe we go back from 2009 to 2010 when the Cowboys had one of their largest regressions in club history, going from 11-5 to 6-10, a five-game swing, followed by three consecutive 8-8 seasons, though the only NFC East team in each of those three seasons with a chance to win the division title in the final game of the season, only to lose all three.

         Deemed awful.

         Well, awful was the first three years of the new century, the three consecutive 5-11 seasons while swamped in salary-cap hell. But since then, the Cowboys have managed 10 non-losing seasons in the past 12, albeit three of those .500. Almost the same as the Eagles, 10 non-losing seasons, but just two 8-8. The Giants have had eight non-losers, two of them at .500. Washington, just three.

         Struck me when reading in the Cowboys season wrap-up release that this was their 18th NFC East title since the division was formed in 1970, nine of those coming in their first 22 seasons (1970-91) and nine in the past 23 seasons (1992-2014). During that same last 23-year time period the Eagles have won seven of their nine East titles, all seven since the turn of the century, the Giants five of their eight, four of those since 2000, and the Redskins just two of their seven, just one over the past 15 seasons.

         And I get it, success is judged on Super Bowls, and of course the Cowboys haven't been in the past 19 seasons while the Giants have won two in their three appearances during that span, the Eagles losing their lone appearance and Washington without an appearance since winning during the 1991 season.

         OK, so just a little historical perspective on what the Cowboys have gone through since Super Bowl XXX, finishing with non-losing seasons in 13 of those 19 seasons as we come upon this year's 20th anniversary of the franchise's last Super Bowl victory/appearance. The Eagles had 14 non-losers during that 19-year span and the Giants 12. The Redskins? Don't ask, just nine, including only one in the past six seasons.

         So there's a look back, way, way back and also just back five and a half months probably back to when a lot of people started penciling in those Ws and Ls next to each game, and the Ls dominated, with an L probably next to San Francisco, New Orleans, Houston, at Seattle, Arizona, at the Giants, both Philadelphia games, at Chicago and Indianapolis. Was hard to come up with more than six wins, if that.

         Hmmm, and they ended up winning twice as many.

         Who knew?

         A sure lesson to keep our money away from our mouths … and for sure from our Tweets.

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