The road to the Vince Lombardi Trophy got considerably shorter for the Dallas Cowboys over the Christmas weekend.
A combination of New York Giants defeats, Tony Romo back fractures, Salvation Army kettles and Owner Jones draft miracles has left the Cowboys as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, with all advantages therein.
In the NFL playoff bracket, that means as long as the Cowboys keep winning, they won’t have to leave the state of Texas. Super Bowl LI, as chance would have it, will be staged in Houston.
So much for frequent flyer miles.
And just in time, because the 12-2 Cowboys have finally made AT&T Stadium their home, winning six in a row in Arlington.
As history tells us, you don’t have to be the No. 1 seed and play all of your playoff games at home to get to the Super Bowl — Google the New York Giants, 2007 — but it’s clearly the preferred way to go.
In that 2007 season, as most local fans darkly remember, coach Wade Phillips’ Cowboys went 13-3 and earned the No. 1 seed and its first-week bye.
In franchise lore, “Cabo” has been a four-letter word ever since. We shouldn’t have to rehash the story.
The 2007 Cowboys lost to the Giants at home 21-17 and fifth-seeded, wild-card New York, playing every game on the road, went on to win Super Bowl XLII.
Different year, different Cowboys. That’s the plan, at least.
When asked on Christmas Eve how he planned to navigate the Cowboys’ express lane into the postseason, coach Jason Garrett said, “We had a short team meeting and we talked about the daily schedule and addressed it. We congratulated our guys, but our focus is on what we need to do to prepare to play our best football Monday night.”
Garrett is right. Though the Cowboys won’t play another championship-significant game for three weeks, he doesn’t want bad habits to soil what has been a remarkable turn-around season.
The starters will start. The visiting Detroit Lions are likely to get the Cowboys’ full effort Monday night. It’s just too soon to be easing back on the pedal right now.
Next week in Philadelphia against the out-of-the-playoff Eagles? That’s a different story. Maybe a Tony Romo farewell story. Nothing of postseason significance will be at stake.
The Romo question is a vexing one. The answer depends on whether you think quarterback Romo, with his jumbo contract and lengthy injury history, has any trade value at all.
Owner Jones would be better off, one would think, letting Romo play a couple of quarters against the Eagles and hope Tony remains in one piece. Otherwise, his health remains somewhat of a mystery, and his trade value diminishes in kind.
Or Owner Jones could opt for Door No. 3 — neither play Romo nor trade him, and instead do him the ultimate favor and release him, allowing him to pick his new team.
But that, in part, is likely next week’s sidebar, not this one’s.
As it stands going into Monday night, the Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons would get the wild-card week byes. As No. 1 seed, the Cowboys would then host the lowest-seeded survivor of the wild-card round.
A victory in the divisional round would mean the Cowboys would host the conference title game for the first time since January 1996, when they beat the Packers to advance to Super Bowl XXX.
Different team, different Cowboys. But playing at home is not insignificant. The franchise has lost its last seven playoff games away from home.
The Cowboys last won a road playoff game in January 1993, when they defeated the 49ers in San Francisco for the NFC championship.
They won’t have to take that path this time.
Once the playoffs begin, the Cowboys will be three victories from a Super Bowl trophy, with all three games played in Texas.
All in all, not a bad Christmas present.