Well well, what do we have here? Four weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys were dead in the water, sitting at 3-9 with less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs. They've now won three in a row for the first time since early September 2019, sit in second place in the NFC East and have a chance at stealing away the division crown from the grasp of the Washington Football Team. To do that, they'll need to defeat the New York Giants -- who have a chance at achieving the same thievery -- and hope Washington loses to the same Philadelphia Eagles the Cowboys throttled in Week 16 to put themselves in position for one final swipe at the throne.
Of course, as has been the theme this year, it's easier said than done.
It's been a wild and crazy ride this season in the NFC East, but despite having virtually insurmountable odds that include the loss of two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, perennial All-Pro offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick (to retirement), starting right tackle La'El Collins, starting tight end Blake Jarwin and more, head coach Mike McCarthy has the Cowboys in the mix when they truly should not be. His ability to invoke belief in a team that could've easily laid down and called it quits in early December deserves an ovation regardless of what happens in Week 17 against the Giants, but even more so if Dallas buries Big Blue; and at MetLife Stadium.
They can do just that though, and for a variety of reasons. When looking at the battle of the offensive coordinators, you'll note the familiarity between Kellen Moore and Jason Garrett, the latter being the reason the former is as talented as he is and has the job he has in Dallas. , and while Garrett knows the ins and outs of Moore's thought pattern, he has a blind spot in McCarthy. McCarthy isn't calling plays, but he is helping to mold the game plan, and it'll be similar to the one that defeated the Giants in Week 5 -- without Prescott or any of the other aforementioned players, to boot.
Aiding the Cowboys offense is the recent chemistry struck between Andy Dalton and the Cowboys receiving corps, after weeks of trying, which will put pressure on a Giants secondary that is admittedly better than that of the Eagles, but could be worn down if tasked with being on the field too much during the game. That puts the onus on quarterback Daniel Jones to play some of the best football of his NFL career, extending drives, punctuating them with touchdowns and eliminating mistakes.
Unluckily enough for him, the Cowboys statistically worst defense has suddenly come alive in takeaways, leading the entire league in that category through the month of December. Jones will be able to get yards against a Dallas defense that readily allows it, DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith might create a situation wherein Jones is forced to use his legs far more than his arm. One week after mostly shutting down a speedier Jalen Hurts, the Cowboys feel confident in their ability to both pummel and flush Jones out of the pocket, and he's already proven he's prone to giving the ball away a time or several.,
To his credit, Jones threw no interceptions and fumbled just once in his first meeting this season against the Cowboys, but the fumble was lost and he also threw no touchdowns -- additionally finishing in the red (-7 rushing yards) on two carries. On the season, the former first-round pick has 10 fumbles and nine interceptions to only nine touchdowns, bringing his career tallies in those categories to 28 and 21 in his first two seasons.
The more Jones is forced to be a hero, the better the odds are for the Cowboys.
The saving grace for the Giants will be if running back Devonta Freeman -- now returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list -- can take advantage of an often poor Cowboys run defense. That will create a pressure release valve for Jones, but it's only viable if the scoreboard allows it, and Dallas aims to make that the 12th defender. All told, while the Cowboys are only three-point favorites to win a game that's virtually a pick 'em, via William Hill Sportsbook, they could pull away at some point with the help of an uneven, possibly less than 100% Jones. And if things get hairy for Dalton against the Giants pass rush, handing the ball off to two-time NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 105 yards on 19 carries in his return from a calf bruise, will help keep them honest.
From there, it'll be all eyes on Washington, with Dallas hoping they didn't come alive a hair too late in 2020.