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Windows Of Opportunity: Breaking Down The Cowboys' Last Six Games

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After consecutive 8-8 seasons, coach Jason Garrett has the Cowboys poised for another similar finish. With injuries proliferating and playoff hopes dwindling, his job could be saved by strength of schedule. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.
After consecutive 8-8 seasons, coach Jason Garrett has the Cowboys poised for another similar finish. With injuries proliferating and playoff hopes dwindling, his job could be saved by strength of schedule. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images.

The Dallas Cowboys are all but limping into their bye week — a 5-5 mess of injuries, coaches under fire and revived animosity for Jerry Jones — yet hope remains, and it’s attributable to two certainties regarding the NFC East: it’s bad and it’s wide open.

For a hot second, the Cowboys looked like they could cruise that pipeline to the playoffs. That notion has vanished faster than the team’s starters on defense. With back-to-back games against Washington and Arizona, Philadelphia is now in good position to take and hold the division lead. The Giants can get right back into the thick of it against the flailing Packers.

To that end, strength of schedule is a huge factor and, perhaps, the last trump card left in the Cowboys’ hand. Let’s take a closer look at the remaining six games.

Week 12 at the New York Giants

The Giants defense has been impressive during the three-game winning streak, holding Adrian Peterson to 28 yards, LeSean McCoy to 48 yards and limiting the fifth-ranked Raiders’ rushing attack to 107 yards. And they’ve notched eight sacks during the stretch, after recording just six in five games.

But Eli Manning still looks too much like his 2004 self for the G-men to keep up on offense. He’s only averaging 181 passing yards per game across this winning streak. With ample time to heal and prepare, the Cowboys get it done, though not by much.

Final Score: DAL 27, NYG 20

Week 13 versus Oakland

The Cowboy front seven will be without Sean Lee and Justin Durant against a pound-the-ground offense. But Oakland is 20th in red-zone conversions, and has no complementary attack — the passing game ranks 31st in yards and touchdowns.

Dallas is 5-2 on Turkey Day in the Tony Romo era. They’ll be looking to avenge last year’s embarrassing performance against the Redskins. Fueled by that and the satisfaction of a road win that daggers the heart of the Giants, they will.

Final Score: DAL 28, OAK 16

Week 14 at the Chicago Bears

The Bears have offensive balance, and Brandon Marshall can hurt Dallas in man coverage as badly as Calvin Johnson did. The game will also feature the frigidity of Chicago in December.

Defensively, the Bears operate the same way the Cowboys do: aggressive stripping, ball-hawking, route-jumping and turnover-forcing. But they do it better and with superior cover skills throughout the secondary. Advantage, Bears.

Final Score: CHI 30, DAL 17

Week 15 versus the Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers recently suggested he’d be recouped from his collarbone injury as early as Week 12. That seems overambitious, but he should be ready after five weeks when the Pack comes to Dallas.

Since the injury involves Rodgers’ non-throwing shoulder, his 13-7 record in December, and a beast of a running back in Eddie Lacy, Green Bay gets the edge. The ‘Boys return to .500.

Final Score: GB: 35, DAL 31

Week 16 at the Washington Redskins

Something about the Redskins has been off all year. They rank third in rushing and 10th in pass defense, but from an intangibles standpoint, they have zero offensive firepower and zero defensive cohesion. It’s shown in their inability to win consecutive games all year.

Needing a win to force a winner-take-all showdown in Week 17 (again), Dallas responds with a sound victory.

Final Score: DAL 24, WASH 14

Week 17 versus the Philadelphia Eagles

Proving that nothing has changed in 2013, the Cowboys hang their playoff hopes and Jason Garrett’s future on Week 17. Philly also enters at 8-7, having dropped to Detroit and Chicago. Michael Vick starts under center after Nick Foles washes out.

In the spirit of division awfulness, the game stays close; but in the spirit of vengeance, the Cowboys come away winners at home this year. They stumble into the playoffs at 9-7, and pray for a miracle against San Francisco or Seattle.

Final Score: DAL 27, PHI 23

In the end, it’ll be another season of squandered skills and missed chances but with the bittersweet flavors of a postseason berth and a 6-0 divisional record. And if Jones cleans house this offseason and brings in better coaching for the talent he’s assembled, Dallas might actually be able to build upon that accomplishment.