By Shawn Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys come out of their bye week in a strange place, one they have not seen this season. Dallas has dropped out of first place in the NFC East and now sits half a game behind the new division leading Philadelphia Eagles. Luckily for Dallas, the odds are still in their favor as they start the second half of the season. Here is what Dallas has to look forward to as they try to move back into first place and win the NFC East in 2013.
The first area that looks positive for the Dallas Cowboys is the tie break scenario in the NFC East right now. However, the Eagles have learned how hard that tie breaker advantage is to keep. When the Cowboys and Eagles last faced off, both were undefeated against their division rivals. After Dallas beat the Eagles, and gave Philadelphia their first NFL East loss, they also lost to the New York Giants. This week, they pulled one out against a Redskins team that almost roared back in the fourth quarter.
Dallas has beaten all their NFC East opponents, but they have to avoid the stumbling block that the Eagles faced when Dallas beat them. The Giants are on a four-game winning streak, after losing the first six games of the season. The first game Dallas has after their bye week is against the Giants on Thanksgiving Day. If Dallas can win that game, they will move back into first place in the NFC East and have a clear advantage against their rivals.
The Dallas Cowboys have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Part of that blame goes to Monte Kiffin, who does not have the Cowboys positioned to stop anybody. Part of that blame goes to the strength and conditioning coaches who don’t have Dallas in the position to stay healthy.
There are only four healthy players on the Dallas defense. The rest have been out with injuries or are playing through various injuries. The Cowboys leading sack specialist, DeMarcus Ware, has suffered through various injuries all season long and missed the first games of his career in 2013. Sean Lee, the best player on the defense, is now out for three to four weeks with hamstring problems. Jason Hatcher, the man who leads the team in sacks, is questionable.
If Dallas doesn’t use this bye week to get healthy, and figure out how to survive without players like Lee, the Giants game could be a tough one to work through. This team is not made to stop offenses and if they don’t get healthy fast, the season could get very ugly.
Strength of Schedule
However, not all is negative. If Dallas can get past a surging New York Giants next week, they get games with the Oakland Raiders, followed by back-to-back games with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, two teams that might be without their starting quarterbacks. That Packers game was a scary one towards the end of the season, but if Aaron Rodgers is still out, Dallas could realistically move to 8-5 by the time they finish the season against Washington and Philadelphia.
That Philadelphia Eagles game is the one to circle on the schedule. The last couple of years, Dallas has missed the playoffs because they could not close the deal against their division rivals. Two years ago, they lost to the Giants in a game that could have sent them to the playoffs. If Dallas and Philadelphia are tied heading into Week 17, this season could be déjà-vu in all the wrong ways.
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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.