Myths: 'Chicken Little' And 'On A Roll'

IRVING, Tex. -- You are about to be assaulted with hyperbolic gobbledygook regarding how an NFL team – specifically YOUR team – must enter the playoffs "on a roll.'' In this space, you will see that theory discussed only once. … and you will see that theory disproven.

The "on a roll'' talk will be fueled, of course, by the fact that the Dallas Cowboys are not. On a roll, that is, given the fact that their two-week break before the postseason opener was preceded by a meaningless ug-fest loss in Washington in Week 17.

Now, don't misunderstand me. History doesn't erase some of the blemishes that popped up in Washington. History doesn't erase the fact that the Cowboys have now lost eight straight Week 17 games. And history doesn't erase the fact that in recent years, this franchise seems to freeze up around the holidays, this edition of the club posting a 2-2 record in December.

But I'm with coach Wade Phillips, who is chiding media members for "throw(ing) in Chicken Little and the sky is falling, and all that, if you want to.'' And while Wade illustrates his point with fairy tales, I'll use facts.

Cowboys history supports my assertion that losses to end the regular season do not necessarily impact the likelihood of a loss to begin "The Second Season.''

Let's examine each of Dallas' championship-game campaigns (seasons in which they reached the league finals) and see if the "on-the-roll'' theory stands up:

In 1966, the Cowboys went 10-3-1. They advanced to the NFL Championship Game, losing to Green Bay. … and they did it despite going 1-1 in their final two regular-season games.

In 1967, it was back to the NFL Championship Game, and another loss to Green Bay. The team went just 9-5. … and that included a 1-2 record in December.

In 1970, the Cowboys were 10-4 and lost the Super Bowl to Baltimore. But that team did "get on a roll,'' winning its last five regular-season outings.

In 1971, another Super Bowl, and finally a win, over Miami. The team was 11-3, and won its last seven in the regular season.

In 1975, the Cowboys lost the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh. The team was 10-4, with a 2-1 record in December.

In 1977, Dallas won the Super Bowl over Denver. The team was a dominant 12-2, and that dominance included the late-going, with four straight victories to close the year.

In 1978, another Super Bowl loss to the Steelers. The 12-4 team won its last six.

In 1992, the Cowboys beat Buffalo in the Super Bowl. The 13-3 record includes a 2-1 record in its final three.

In 1993, Dallas repeated with another SB win over the Bills. The 12-4 team won its final five.

In 1995, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl over Pittsburgh, finished 12-4 and won its final two – but not before back-to-back losses to open December.

Add it up: Dallas has participated in 10 league title games. In those seasons, the Cowboys dropped one of their final three games in five of the 10 years.

If we include "championship'' seasons in the form of "conference championship'' seasons. …

In 1972 they lost their regular-season finale. In '73 they won their final three. In '80 they lost Game 15. In '81, they lost Game 16. In '82 they were 0-2 down the stretch. In '94, they lost Game 16 and two of the final three.

Add those up: In six more "championship-game'' seasons – and those count as relative successes, right? – the Cowboys lost their last regular-season game four times.

Now put them all together: In 16 "championship-game'' seasons:

· A record in final-three games of 34-14.

· A record in final-two games of 24-8.

· A record in final-one games of 11-5.

Given the fact that the winning percentages represented in those down-the-stretch games essentially mirror the winning percentages of contending Cowboys teams (and other contending teams), losing late hardly seems notable. A good Dallas team goes around 11-5 all year long, and then goes 11-5 in end-of-season games?

Seems pretty consistent to me.

Oh, and this doesn't just apply to Dallas.

· Last year's champions, the Colts, went 12 -4 – but all four losses came during the course of the last seven games.

· The year before, the NFC champ was Seattle, which lost its 16th game.

· The year before that, the 2004 Eagles won the NFC, but were 0-2 to close their regular season.

Those Eagles, those Seahawks and those Colts were not on a roll ENTERING the playoffs. They got on a roll IN the playoffs.

My contention is that just as there is no definitive carryover from, say, Game 3 to Game 4, there needn't be a carryover from Game 16 to Game 17. There is simply no evidence that ending the regular season with a win is a springboard to advancing to the NFC Championship Game or to the Super Bowl.

And losing a meaningless Game 16 is not a wet blanket that in any way douses a team's chances to be hot, or to be great, once the playoffs begin.

In short, there is no such thing as "the sky is falling.'' And there is no such thing as "on a roll.''

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