All the way back on Aug. 27, 2014 - a lifetime ago - I wrote for the record the Dallas Cowboys would finish 10-6. It was bold. It was daring. It was out-of-the-box. It was all of the things that made the late Steve Jobs once say of me, “Who are you, and why are you on my lawn at 2 a.m.?”
Yes, it was the fourth consecutive season I picked the Cowboys to finish 10-6. The first two years, I actually believed it. The last two years, I stuck with the decision to go with 10-6 until it happened. Law of averages was on my side. Looking back on that prediction, and the reasoning to justify that bold call, it all actually made sense.
There were six components to a 10-6 record, and all of them hit.
What Had to Happen for 10-6 No. 1. Tony Romo plays 16.
The crux of any 10-win team is a healthy QB. Romo, Jerry and Jason Garrett have been hard-selling that everything is fine with the twice-operated back. The best alternative is to believe all of their optimism.
What Happened: Romo played 15. And he played the best of his life.
What Had to Happen for 10-6 No. 2. They can run.
Jason Garrett always says he loves to run the ball, but in each of the past four seasons the Cowboys have thrown the ball nearly 200 times more per season than they have run it. In the past four years, the Cowboys have averaged 597 passes per year, and 381 rushing attempts. The offensive line features three first-round picks, and DeMarco Murray is in a contract year. If they don't, or can't, run the ball now they will never be able to run it.
What Happened: DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing, and the Cowboys’ run offense was second in the NFL.
What Had to Happen for 10-6 No. 3: The turnover margin will be the same or greater as 2013.
The Cowboys defense, which ranked as one of the worst in the history of the NFL in 2013, was one of the better teams at creating turnovers. The Cowboys were plus-8 in turnovers in 2013. If the Cowboys are plus-8 in turnovers again, they will have a winning record.
What Happened: The Cowboys defense was much better than expected, and was plus-six in turnovers.
What Had to Happen for 10-6 No. 4. There will be a surprise on defense.
If I am going to stick with 10-6, at least two players will emerge as legit players. Linebacker Kyle Wilber, safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church and defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford are good candidates because of their youth. Someone among the group of Henry Melton, Anthony Spencer, Rolando McClain and Amobi Okoye will “hit” and be effective.
What Happened: Spencer returned from microfracture knee surgery and was OK. Melton was OK for much of the season until a knee injury knocked him out for the playoffs. Crawford was solid, but the big winner was McClain, who should have made the Pro Bowl.
What Had to Happen for 10-6 No. 5. This will not happen again.
The Cowboys lost three games in 2013 by one point. They lost one game by two points. They lost one game by three points. According to Elias, the 2013 Cowboys’ four losses of two or fewer points is an NFL record. They just need a few of those to change for 10 wins.
What Happened: The Cowboys didn’t play ‘em close. Nine of their wins were by a touchdown.
What Had to Happen for 10-6 No. 6: The NFC East.
If the Cowboys played in any other division other than the East, 10 wins would be more of a dream than it sounds. In the NFC East, where no team looks to be that much better than the other, 10 wins sounds just dumb enough that it could actually happen.
What Happened: The NFC East was bad. No team other than the Cowboys made the playoffs. Neither the Giants no Redskins won more than six games, and the Eagles fell apart late.
The Results: They finished 12-4, won the NFC East, and just defeated the Detroit Lions in the NFC playoffs to reach the divisional round against the Green Bay Packers.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7760