So it’s Thanksgiving and that means you’re going to watch the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday afternoon. That’s just the way it is. And this year, with the Cowboys at 9-1 and leading the NFL by record, Cowboys fans have much to be thankful for.
But I was interested to see if there was any correlation between the results of Thanksgiving Day and how far the Cowboys might get in the playoffs. After all, unless something catastrophic happens that’s where the Cowboys are headed. To put this piece together I explored every Cowboys playoff season that included a Thanksgiving Day game to see what happened that day and what happened after that game to see how this Cowboys tradition could impact the rest of the season.
Super Bowl victories
The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls and in four of those seasons the Cowboys played a Thanksgiving Day game (in 1977 they didn’t play on Thanksgiving). The good news is that the Cowboys were 3-1 on Thanksgiving for the other four Super Bowl seasons. The loss was the fluky “Leon Lett” game in the snow in 1993. The better news is that the Cowboys played well after the Thanksgiving Day game and it seemed to propel them right into the playoffs. Overall the Cowboys were 13-3 (.812 winning percentage) after Thanksgiving in those four Super Bowl seasons and, of course, won all 12 of their playoff games.
Super Bowl losses
The Cowboys have lost three Super Bowls and played a Thanksgiving Day game in two of those seasons (1975 being the exception). Like the Super Bowl victories, the Cowboys did well on Thanksgiving Day, going 2-0. Additionally, after that game the Cowboys were undefeated (6-0, 1.000 winning percentage) and went 4-2 in the postseason, losing the two Super Bowls, of course.
Combined the Cowboys were 5-1 on Thanksgiving Day during Super Bowl seasons, along with a 19-3 record post-Thanksgiving Day.
NFC/NFL Title Game losses
The Cowboys have reached the NFC or NFL title game eight times and failed to win. In those seasons the Cowboys were 6-2 on Thanksgiving Day (.750 winning percentage). But, interestingly, those teams’ winning percentage post-Thanksgiving Day dropped to .615, with a record of 16-10. The Cowboys were then 9-8 in the playoffs.
Divisional Playoff losses
The Cowboys have reached the playoffs 11 times but failed to advance past the divisional round. In those seasons the Cowboys were 8-2-1 on Thanksgiving Day. The Cowboys’ winning percentage post-Thanksgiving Day went up from the NFC title game sample (.735 winning percentage) based on a 25-9 record. But the Cowboys were far worse in the playoffs, going 4-10.
Wild Card losses
The last sample comes from the five teams that reached the playoffs but lost in the Wild Card round. Those teams went 3-2 on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys’ record post-Thanksgiving Day took a huge drop from our previous samples, as they went 9-12 overall (.428 winning percentage) and 0-5 in the playoffs.
The Cowboys are 22-7-1 on Thanksgiving Day in seasons in which they make the playoffs. So that’s good news if you’re thinking ahead to Thursday. If you’re thinking ahead to the games after Thanksgiving, you’re hoping the Cowboys keep on winning and not just because it could lead to home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Cowboys are 69-34 post-Thanksgiving Day in the entire sample, but Cowboys teams that go deeper in the playoffs tend to play better down the stretch based on history. Remember those Super Bowl numbers? The Cowboys were 19-3 post-Thanksgiving Day (.863 winning percentage) and 16-2 in the playoffs. Take the Super Bowl appearances out of the sample and the Cowboys are 50-31 (.617 winning percentage) after Thanksgiving Day and 13-23 in the playoffs.
So keep an eye on what the Cowboys do post-Thanksgiving Day. History tells us the better they play, the better their chances of reaching a Super Bowl.
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