If it were not for the heated rivalry of decades ago, the weekend matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins could easily be a yawner for a national audience. Notwithstanding rivalries past, there are other factors that could make this game an interesting one to watch.
The Week 10 Turning Point in the NFC East
The NFC East championship, through the first half of the season, seemed to be within the easy grasp of the New York Giants, whose two-game lead dissolved after a disappointing loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday when quarterback Eli Manning had a pass swatted down by 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith, with seconds left on the clock. Manning’s command of the two-minute offense had many viewers believing a last minute win was in the cards for the Giants. The 49ers had a different idea, beating the Giants 27-20.
Earlier in the day, in Arlington, the Cowboys shocked the Buffalo Bills, who came to Dallas sporting a 5-3 record and some impressive offensive credentials. Dallas, on the other hand, had just won an uninspired game against the Seattle Seahawks the week before. It had come on the heels of a 14-day bye week hell after the team had been scalded by arch-rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. My prediction of an 8-8 season seemed optimistic, even after the victory over the Seahawks.
The Leap Forward in Week 10
But, just as turtles sometimes insist on crossing the road anyway, believing its shell can save them from the 18 wheeler bearing down upon them, the Cowboys came into the game against the Bills scrambling for every inch of the gridiron highway it could grab, hoping their blue star would shine bright again.
Pinning the season’s hopes on the seesaw act of quarterback Tony Romo and his shell-shocked corps of wide receivers, the game was an all-out sprint to rise above mediocrity. And, at least for week 10, it did. It also earned running back DeMarco Murray the permanent starting position in place of the injured Felix Jones, who returns against the Redskins in an ill-defined special role. Everything was smooth, far too smooth for those who warily choose the role of skeptic, like me.
Dusting Off the Cowboy Myth
There is this local myth that says, in spite of over 15 years of evidence to refute it, one sound victory over a worthy opponent renders the Dallas Cowboys deserving of its “America’s Team” moniker, which until the team wins another championship is more of a curse than a blessing.
A lot of hot air has been heard on the airwaves this week in Dallas. After only the second impressive win of the season, the first being the early victory over the otherwise undefeated 49ers, the talk moved from the toilet to the title, NFC East champs.
So, as the talk has shifted, dangerous assumptions are being made, including the one about the next three games being a cinch. Yes, the Cowboys are playing the Redskins, the Miami Dolphins, and the Arizona Cardinals, teams with a combined record of 8-19 on the season. By reasonable standards, the Cowboys should win them all, except for the one problem: this is the NFL.
The Redskins are ranked 27th in offense, playing against the Cowboys’ ninth ranked defense. The Redskins have not led in scoring against any opponent at any time since the first weekend in October (according to ESPN Dallas). It is tempting for Cowboys fans to throw caution to the wind and chalk up the victory prematurely. But, the diehards must trouble themselves with the actual game to be played.
Five Things to Watch Besides the Score
Here are some things to watch if you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys:
- Will Tony Romo repeat his game of a week ago, or will he revert to the mistakes from earlier in the season?
- Is DeMarco Murray for real? Putting another consecutive game of greatness in place will convert more of those fans who are still nonbelievers. He converted me last week.
- Will the offensive line keep getting better? For a bunch of rookies, these guys have already exceeded my expectations.
- Can the defense dominate as much as they should against the hapless Redskins offense? A mediocre performance by the Cowboys defense would be disappointing even if the team comes away victorious.
- Can the Cowboys handle success?
My prediction is in line with the Las Vegas odds this week. I pick the Cowboys by eight points.