Potential playoff glass is half full, half empty for Cowboys

IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys would have dug their grave with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Instead, they made up lost ground in the NFC East.

The Cowboys' 38-23 victory at Philadelphia, combined with the New York Giants' upset loss to Cincinnati has Dallas only 11/2 games out of first place. The Cowboys play twice before the Giants get back on the field Nov. 25 against Green Bay.

Thus, Dallas could be tied for the NFC East lead with a 6-5 record heading into December.

"We know we have a shot," Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said Monday. "But we're not looking around to see what everyone else is doing. We have to control what's going on in our locker room. That's all we have control over. If the Giants lose, win, draw, however it may be, that has nothing to do with us. We have to go out with the mind-set of each game to take care of our own business."

Hope is still alive.

Reasons for optimism

1 Cowboys' schedule: Their final seven opponents are a combined 24-38. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Cowboys play at home on Dec. 16, are the only team with a winning record that Dallas plays down the stretch.

2 Giants' schedule: The Giants, losers of two in a row, don't have an easy game remaining on their schedule aside from possibly the Eagles in Week 17. Their final six opponents are 31-23. That includes games against Green Bay, Atlanta and Baltimore, who are a combined 21-6.

3 Defense wins championships: The Cowboys haven't won the NFC East since 2009. It's no coincidence that in going 6-10 and 8-8 in 2010 and 2011, the Cowboys had two of the worst pass defenses in team history. Dallas ranks eighth in total defense this season, seventh against the pass. Its defense will keep it in every game.

4 Turnovers? What turnovers? The Cowboys killed themselves in their 3-4 start; they had 19 giveaways and were minus-11 in turnover ratio. But they have not turned the ball over the past two games, while getting two takeaways that resulted in defensive touchdowns.

Reasons for pessimism

1 Home, not so sweet, home: The Cowboys have not turned their $1.2 billion stadium into a home. Or at least a home-field advantage. They are 14-13 in the regular season at Cowboys Stadium since it opened in 2009. That includes a 1-2 record this season. They play five of their final seven games at home, including three in a row beginning Sunday.

2 December is coming: The Cowboys are 23-39 the past 15 Decembers combined, and they are 3-3 in regular-season January games over that span. They went 1-3 last December. Dallas has not had a winning December since 2001.

3 Can they find the end zone? The Cowboys have trouble scoring. They are averaging 20.9 points per game, but that includes the three return touchdowns Sunday against the Eagles. The Dallas offense is averaging 18.6 points per game. The Cowboys rank tied for 24th in the red zone, with only 12 touchdowns in 27 possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

4 They need help: Eight teams have better records in the NFC. Only six make the playoffs. Seven NFC teams already have at least six victories. The Cowboys' best route likely is in winning the division, which would require the Giants losing.

Charean Williams


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