Prior to the start of the season, the Dallas Cowboys were one of the favorites to win the NFC and make a trip to the Super Bowl. Things change quickly in the NFL. After five weeks, Dallas is just 2-3 and in third place in the NFC East. It is one of just five teams in the conference with a negative point differential.
Some fans and casual observers may assume the Cowboys are primed to turn this season around coming out of their Week 6 bye. After all, this is a talented roster with blue chip players on both sides of the ball. However, that line of thought not only ignores what we have seen on the field to this point. It also attempts to avoid what Dallas has in front of it. The Cowboys are in trouble; just look at their remaining schedule.
Thus far, Dallas opponents are 12-12 on the year, counting the games played against Dallas itself. In their remaining 11 games following the bye, the Cowboys are set to face one of the toughest schedules in the league. Just a week ago, Dallas’ remaining slate was ranked as the fourth-hardest in the NFL based on Super Bowl odds of those pending opponents. Though championship odds can be slower to adjust to what we are seeing on the field, they also encapsulate rebounds and regression from under- and overachievers.
That remaining schedule begins easy enough, with a trip to winless San Francisco. But after that, things get tricky. Dallas then faces four consecutive teams currently with at least a 49 percent chance of reaching the postseason. Counting duplicate divisional foes, the Cowboys play seven such opponents in their remaining 11 games. And that group doesn’t include Oakland, who was a heavy Super Bowl contender just a few weeks ago and may get back there with a healthy Derek Carr.
All told, the Dallas opponents currently have a combined record of 26-26 despite this batch including two of the three 0-5 teams in the sport. Obviously, playing 0-5 teams aids a team’s future prospects, but such records also distort the overall total. Consider: playing San Francisco can only result in a single victory, no matter how much better Dallas is than the 49ers. There are only three games remaining in which the Cowboys will be comfortable favorites. The rest is quite a tough slate.
If the remaining schedule wasn’t enough of a mountain to climb, the way some of the other NFC contenders are playing doesn’t do Dallas any favors. Philadelphia already has a two-game lead in the division and the best point differential in the conference heading into Thursday night’s game against Carolina. Every team in the NFC South has a superior record to the Cowboys, as does most of the North and half the West.
Five games feels early in the season. It is also enough of a sample banked to declare who is in good shape and who is not. With 11 teams to climb within the conference and a harder remaining schedule than all but one of them, Dallas is in bad shape.