Playoffs on the Line

The Cowboys' season has been reduced to a must-win and hope for some help.

Formerly 7-3, riding atop the NFC East and considered a NFC title contender, the Cowboys (8-6) have lost three of their last four games.

They must win their final two games, against the Panthers on Saturday and Jan. 1 against the Rams, and also hope for other wild-card contenders to lose to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.

The Cowboys are on the brink of the biggest collapse in franchise history. Never before has a Cowboys team won seven of its first 10 games and failed to make the playoffs.

"It's one of those things that you look back on and it's going to be very disappointing if we don't make (the playoffs)," Cowboys safety Keith Davis said.

"We had complete control of this whole season, and when you start looking for help, that's out of your hands. You can't depend on somebody else to help you. You do it yourself."

The question now is if they can do it at all. And do they have the will to do it after last Sunday's 35-7 blowout loss to the Redskins?

Coach Bill Parcells doesn't know if his team is mature enough to handle the situation. He said its youth and inexperience has been exposed over the last month.

And he's certainly not confident.

"No, I don't (feel confident) right now," Parcells said. "Why would I?"

Nevertheless, Parcells has spent the past week acting the part. He said enough people have been spouting doom and gloom around the team that it's been his job to keep the players positive.

"I don't preach anything," Parcells said. "But the facts are the facts. We still have a chance to do something. That is a positive. You don't have to be astute to figure that out. I still think we have an opportunity. They have been beat at home a couple of times."

SERIES HISTORY: 8th meeting. Dallas leads the series 4-3 and the Cowboys have won four of the last five. Dallas and Carolina met in a 1996 divisional playoff Game and a 2003 wild-card game, with the Panthers claiming victories in both.

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