Nothing matters unless they get a win.
We all know the stats, no NFL team in the 16 game format has ever recovered from a 2-6 start to earn a playoff spot. It’s too simplistic, now, to blame everything on Tony Romo’s injury. The 2015 Dallas Cowboys are snakebit, and they are almost completely out of time to suck the venom from the wound before amputation is mandatory.
We know the narratives. It’s near impossible to win with backup quarterbacks. They are 7-18 on the season; good for just a .280 winning percentage. Yet, the Cowboys haven’t even managed to get one of those wins. It’s not out of the question for a backup to win a game; it just shouldn’t be a surprise if they don’t. No matter the team around them. Here’s a look at the Backup QB ledger for 2015, through Week 9.
|Matt Hasselbeck||Indianapolis||2-0||Jax (W), Hou (W)|
|Ryan Mallet||Houston||1-3||Carolina (L), TB (W), Atl (L), IND (L)|
|Brandon Weeden||Dallas||0-3||Atl (L), NO (L), NE (L)|
|Matt Cassel||Dallas||0-3||NYG (L), Sea (L), Phi (L)|
|EJ Manuel||Buffalo||0-2||Cincy (L), Jax (L)|
|Johnny Manziel||Cleveland||1-1||Ten (W), Cincy (L)|
|Zack Mettenberger||Tennessee||0-2||Atl (L), Hou (L)|
|Michael Vick||Pittsburgh||2-1||Bal (L), SD (W), Ari (W)|
|Landry Jones||Pittsburgh||0-1||KC (L)|
|Jimmy Clausen||Chicago||0-1||Sea (L)|
|Luke McCown||New Orleans||0-1||Car (L)|
|Blaine Gabbert||San Francisco||1-0||Atl (W)|
Look at the teams who have lost to a backup. Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Jacksonville were the worst three teams in the NFL last year. Houston is 3-5. San Diego is 2-7. The only quality teams to lose to a backup quarterback are Atlanta and Arizona. Atlanta, 6-3, has remarkably faced 4 backup QB starters this year. They’re 3-1 in those games, calling into question the validity of their strong start. Arizona lost a game to a backup (Mike Vick) where the game-plan against a left-handed quarterback was turned on it’s head when he left the game and his backup Landry Jones orchestrated a comeback win.
Regardless of all of that, Dallas isn’t one of the teams who have earned a victory without their franchise signal caller. That leaves them 2-6 on the season; the second worse record in the NFC behind the lowly Detroit Lions. Every year the talk of turnover amongst playoff teams gets discussed, and this year Dallas, Detroit and Seattle are claiming dibs in the NFC.
Things change, though. The second half of the season is a brand new set of 8 games, and teams with viable explanations do stand a chance of turning history around. No one can ever be the second to do something until a pioneer does it the first time. So here’s a look at the NFC Landscape and a snapshot into Dallas’ chances of sneaking into the 2016 playoffs.
In the NFCE, Dallas sits behind all three teams, with two head-to-head games remaining against Washington. Here’s a look at the remaining schedule of the NFC East teams.
|Week||Opponent||Win %||Opponent||Win %||Opponent||Win %||Opponent||Win %|
|10||@ Tampa||0.375||New England||1.000||Miami||0.375||New Orleans||0.444|
|11||@ Miami||0.375||Bye||Tampa||0.375||@ Carolina||1.000|
|12||Carolina||1.000||@ Washington||0.375||@ Detroit||0.125||NY Giants||0.556|
|13||@ Washington||0.375||NY Jets||0.625||@ New Eng.||1.000||Dallas||0.250|
|14||@ Green Bay||0.750||@ Miami||0.375||Buffalo||0.500||@ Chicago||0.375|
|16||@ Buffalo||0.500||@ Minnesota||0.750||Washington||0.375||@ Philadelphia||0.500|
|17||Washington||0.375||Philadelphia||0.500||NY Giants||0.556||@ Dallas||0.250|
|Total Opp. Win%||0.547||Total Opp. Win%||0.661||Total Opp. Win%||0.507||Total Opp. Win%||0.484|
The clear problem here is Philadelphia, further magnifying how crushing Sunday’s loss was. Washington might have the easiest remaining schedule, but Dallas can pass them simply by winning the two remaining contests between the two. With no games left against Philly, it’s difficult getting Philadelphia to more than 7 losses, despite how unimpressive of a team they appear to be. They aren’t above being upset, but they appear to be a 10-6 or 9-7 team.
The Giants are currently leading the division, but their second half schedule is filled with potential landmines. Their home schedule includes two of the remaining three undefeated teams, plus a quality Jets team that really won’t be a true home field advantage. They also have to travel to Minnesota; a .661 opponents win percentage is a tall task indeed.
It’s a stretch of the imagination for Dallas to go undefeated and get to 10 wins. 7-1 is a daunting, but not impossible task, and it still might not be enough for Dallas to win the division. But as always, there’s a chance.
______NFC Wild Card Race______
So if Dallas does manage to go on a run, yet still fall short in the division, is there any shot of securing one of the two Wild Card slots? That also, is a tough task. Again, Dallas currently has the second worst record in the NFC, so they literally have to hurdle 9 teams to get to the sixth seed.
Current NFC Playoff Picture
For now, to avoid looking at the schedule of every team in the conference, we’ll assume a couple things. Minnesota and Green Bay will both make the playoffs, as will Arizona as the NFCW champ. Carolina will win the NFC South for the third consecutive year after not having a repeat champion in forever. Dallas would have to finish with a better regular season record than Seattle, Atlanta and New Orleans, by virtue of them losing the head-to-head matchups earlier in the season. They could conceivably win a tiebreaker scenario with the St. Louis Rams and should be a better second half product than Washington, Tampa, Chicago, San Fran and Detroit.
Assuming a sweep of Washington, Dallas would have a 4-2 division record, earning the tiebreaker over whoever doesn’t win the East between Philly and New York. They play the final week of the season and the loser would have at least 3 division L’s.
Here’s a look at the remaining schedules for the Wild Card competition, should Dallas go on a run but fail to win the NFC East.
|Atlanta||(6-3)||St. Louis||(4-4)||Seattle||(4-4)||New Orleans||(4-5)|
|Week||Opponent||Win %||Opponent||Win %||Opponent||Win %||Opponent||Win %|
|11||Indianapolis||0.444||@ Baltimore||0.250||San Fran||0.333||Bye|
|12||Minnesota||0.750||@ Cincinnai||1.000||Pittsburgh||0.556||@ Houston||0.375|
|13||@ Tampa||0.375||Arizona||0.750||@ Minnesota||0.750||Carolina||1.000|
|14||@ Carolina||1.000||Detroit||0.125||@ Baltimore||0.250||Tampa Bay||0.375|
|17||New Orleans||0.444||@ San Fran||0.333||Arizona||0.750||@ Atlanta||0.667|
|Total Opp. Win%||0.609||Total Opp. Win%||0.464||Total Opp. Win%||0.514||Total Opp. Win%||0.452|
Again, this looks like a monumental task. Atlanta has a difficult schedule based but are three games ahead of Dallas in the loss column, plus the aforementioned tiebreaker. Them losing 5 of their final 7 games would be a big stretch. St. Louis on the other hand has an easy schedule littered with the league’s worst teams. Seattle has five tough games remaining on their schedule that will test their resolve. Meanwhile, the Saints appear to have a road to at least nine wins paved with gold with only Carolina and Atlanta as remaining opponents who are above .500.
So while the eternal optimist can plot a course for 7-1 down the stretch, it still might not be enough if several competitors don’t crap the bed. Of course, if these teams Dallas has to chase down were really good teams, they wouldn’t be in this conversation either. So there’s always a ray of hope. The real Dallas Cowboys will just have to stop hiding behind those sunshades.