The Still-Contending Cowboys: Bundle Up!

IRVING, Texas -- The Titans and the Giants represent excellence. The 0-9 Lions represent suckage. What lies in between? A swath as wide as any hunk of fabric Keyshawn Johnson will ever use on his new A&E show that stars the former Cowboys receiver as an interior designer.

(Sidebar: The problems with Keyshawn as an interior designer are threefold: 1) he's a big dumb football player; 2) he's a dude; 3) he's straight.)

What lies in between? How many teams have either four, five or six wins? Twenty of ‘em – including your still-contending Dallas Cowboys.As troubling as it is that Dallas is a supposed "underachiever,'' the NFL is a LEAGUE of underachievers. … or maybe the NFL is a league of "overachievers'' because inferior have-nots so frequently defeat the have's. Whichever.

As a result, we are about through Week 10 and eight teams bobble about in the marshmallow'y five-win middle of the NFL standings.And look at the company the Cowboys are keeping at 5-4: The Bears planned on winning their division. So did the Broncos. So did the Colts. So did the Eagles. So did the Vikings. The Dolphins and Bills? They didn't enter the year with lofty expectations, but over the course of two-and-a-half months, they've developed them.

And they still harbor them – as should the Cowboys.Can Dallas hold off the four-win contenders, New Orleans and Green Bay? The Cowboys have a leg up there, of course, and in the case of the Packers, having beaten them head-to-head, a leg-and-a-half up.

Can Dallas duel the five-win contenders? Well, they lost the head-to-head with Arizona, but that's a moot point for the moment because the Cardinals are threatening to win their division and an automatic playoff berth. The Vikings and Bears might not survive each other. And Dallas has the head-to-head with Philly. … for now.

Can Dallas catch the 6-3's? The Bucs are one of those (leg up) and so are the Redskins. But the 6-3 Redskins? That's the immediate challenge. Immediate because these two teams will likely try to emerge as wild-cards from the same division. Immediate because Dallas needs to win to split the season series. And immediate because the Cowboys travel to Washington this weekend.

After the Washington game, Texas Stadium plays host to a couple of relative cupcakes, the 49ers and Seahawks. Is it conceivable for Dallas to win three straight? Of course … and suddenly the Cowboys are 8-4 with four to play.And the national media will start talking Super Bowl again. It could all collapse after that, though. First off, the lineup goes Pittsburgh/Giants/Baltimore/Philadelphia. (In theory, it could all come down to that Philly trip, eh?)

Those four teams presently have a 25-11 combined record. Football's Murderer's Row, right there.

Additionally, it will be December, when these Cowboys usually survive as well as a snowman in North Texas. And the two roadies are both in Pennsylvania. Nasty.

But just as it was silly in August to assume that the Dallas Cowboys would walk through the playoffs, it is silly in October to assume that they will not. That is especially so when there are only a couple of excellent teams vying for a full dozen spots, when there are only a few crummy teams that are out of it, and 20 or so teams that find themselves in the same still-afloat place these Cowboys are.

It's going to get tougher, and it's going to get colder, but the Cowboys are not without hope.

Maybe Keyshawn Johnson can knit them a nice scarf?

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