Who Scares Us? Nobody.

Cowboys coach Bill Parcells asked his players this week what he always asks them. "Who in the NFL scares you?" Cornerback Mario Edwards, like a lot of his teammates, discovered himself pausing as he mentally went through a list of usual suspects in his mind.

Eagles? Not really. Giants? Not exactly. Chiefs? No. Colts? No way.

"We were looking at our division first, then we looked around the league, and, really, nobody scares us," Edwards said. "There are a couple of teams out there that are playing well, but what about us?"

Yes, what about the Cowboys, who play Buffalo on Sunday?

On Sunday, a young Houston bunch tamed highly touted Carolina and a supposed Super Bowl contender in Tampa got manhandled by lowly New Orleans. In a wild, wacky and wide-open NFL, why can't the suddenly 6-2 Cowboys dare to dream they can be the league's latest version of Extreme Makeover?

If the 5-11 Patriots and the 4-12 Rams can win the Super Bowl a year later, why not the Cowboys?

Not that Parcells was getting overly giddy from barely squeaking by with an ugly, ugly victory against Washington. Nor has he changed his tune that talk of a playoff berth is premature. He was simply repeating a phrase he has been saying since he arrived at Valley Ranch in January.

"He never told us we were rebuilding," defensive end Greg Ellis said. "He said, 'I didn't come here to wait until next year for us to be successful. Let's do it now.'"

What stuns Ellis isn't so much that Parcells believed but Parcells' ability to get everybody else to believe.

He had been around for 5-11 and 5-11 and 5-11. He had seen teammates' faces fall after an unexpected loss or a poor first half or even an unlucky turnover. He realized what an uphill challenge Parcells was facing. And yet, when Parcells asked "Why not us?" Ellis watched teammates repeating after him until, suddenly, Dallas' locker room is packed with guys asking: "Why not us?"

Cowboys tight end Dan Campbell was yelling "We'll be playing in January" as he sprinted off the field Sunday.

"Let's face it. Why are you playing this game if you are not playing to get to the Super Bowl? What are you doing? Is it just a job? Are you just out here to play?" Campbell said. "I know I'm not, and I'm pretty sure most of the guys on this team aren't. But I think, when you have a young team like we do, sometimes you need to look ahead and say: 'Hey man, we got a chance to do something here. So let's correct the problems we have, specifically offensively, and let's become a powerhouse. Let's become a real contender here.'"

Who is a real contender and who is a pretender is hard to define in Paul Tagliabue's NFL.

The NFC is a mess. The Eagles are not exactly lighting folks up, but they're sitting there at 5-3. It is the Bucs' week to win, but what about the next week? Of course, the Raiders ended up in the Super Bowl after a 4-4 start, so counting the Bucs out is dangerous. But they are in trouble. The Rams were becoming the trendy pick before they stunk it up against San Francisco. Neither the Seahawks nor the Vikings have proven anything except they are still unproven.

The AFC boasts teams with better records. But is anybody ready to say "Oh yeah, the Colts are unbeatable?" Doesn't everybody want to see the Chiefs beat somebody tougher than the Packers and Broncos before crowning them? And, unless the Titans plan to disprove the theory "You can't win without a good running game," they are suspect at best.

"I don't use it that way," Parcells said when asked if he mentioned the wide-open nature of the NFL to his players. "I usually ask them one particular question as far as the league ... I'll let you ask them what it is. I don't want to say it myself."

He asks who scares them.

And probably Monday's best and most honest response was uttered by quarterback Quincy Carter.

"What scares us? Probably ourselves," he said. "We can be our own worst enemy."

If Parcells is really looking for a list of "Why nots," he can go back over film and see a litany of becauses.

Because the Cowboys have seven turnovers in their past two games. Because they have played sloppily on offense their past two games. Because they were lucky to win one of them. Because they are not likely to be that lucky again.

All of which is valid. So is 6-2.

So why not them?

"We have a long way to go," Parcells said. "There's a lot of football left. I think this is a critical time in the season for us. Fortunately we have one-fifth of what I think is going to be the most critical time of the season. Twenty percent is now in our favor, so hopefully we can keep playing good enough to win."

9th meeting. The Cowboys lead the series 5-3. The Bills won the last meeting, 10-7 in 1996 at Buffalo. The last meeting in Dallas was a 13-10 Bills victory in 1993.

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