There have been some long waits for success in professional US sports, but few have been as high profile as the wait for Super Bowl success that the Dallas Cowboys fans have endured.
The Cowboys have five Super Bowls in their trophy cabinet, and the last of those came in 1996 when they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17. At that point, they shared the record for most Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, but they have since been overtaken by both the Steelers and the New England Patriots, and 13 other teams have also won the Super Bowl in that period.
There have been many false dawns in that time. NFL bettors who have consistently bet against the Cowboys in playoff games will have made a steady profit. As we head toward Super Bowl 57, there will be plenty of bettors excited at the opportunity to oppose Dallas again, as the bookmakers currently rate them as third or fourth favorites for Super Bowl glory.
But could this time be different? The Cowboys are once again threatening to make some noise in the playoffs, but maybe this could be the season in which the drought is ended.
Prescott and Rush
When Dak Prescott went down with an injury at the start of the season, Dallas fans feared the worst. Yet his replacement, Cooper Rush, proved to be a safe pair of hands, and when Prescott returned, he was able to continue the momentum, steering Dallas to a 9-3 record.
Prescott obviously remains the first-choice quarterback but having Cooper Rush as backup is excellent insurance. And, during Rush’s time as starter, Dallas was able to evolve a more effective style of play, based on short passing yardage, running the football, and defense.
Speaking of defense, the Dallas defense remains an elite group. Going into their latest game against the Colts, Dallas led the NFL in pressure rate and sacks, and after beating Indianapolis, their average points against record per game stood at 17.2, which gives the offense plenty of margin for error.
Micah Parsons grabs the headlines but there are elite defenders throughout the Dallas roster, including DeMarcus Lawrence, Trevon Diggs, and Jayron Kearse. At the business end of the season, when the weather is rough and the pressure is on, a strong defense can be huge.
The Missing Puzzle Piece?
The potential signing of Odell Beckham Jr has been the biggest NFL story for a few weeks, and it was given new momentum by the fact that the wide receiver has spent two days visiting with the Cowboys this week. Although there are reportedly some concerns that OBJ may not be ready for action until well into January, that would still provide a timely boost to the Cowboys, assuming that they can remain in the playoffs for that long.
If you had to pick the biggest weakness for Dallas, it is their wide receiver group, which has lacked a star since Amari Cooper left the franchise. OBJ is not superhuman¾he still relies on a good quarterback for service¾but all the evidence suggests that he would work well with Prescott, who is happy to throw the ball deep, and he would add a new weapon to the Cowboys’ arsenal.
Divisional Battle Crucial
To win the Super Bowl, Dallas will, of course, have to reach the playoffs. There are three tiers to the playoffs, in descending order of advantage. Winning the NFC East and finishing with the best record in the NFC would give Dallas a first-round playoff bye and home advantage in the Divisional games.
Right now, there are only two teams in the NFC with a better record than the Cowboys: the 10-2 Vikings and the 11-1 Eagles. The Eagles, of course, are in the same Division.
So, overhauling the Eagles is the only route to that first-round bye, although Minnesota has a relatively easy run-in, so could also be a threat. The Christmas Eve game against Philadelphia, therefore, takes on huge importance. If Dallas can win that one and run the table in their other four games, they will have a great chance of topping the best Division in the NFC and the Conference.
Even if they end up with a Wild Card, however, Dallas still has a strong, well-balanced team with plenty to offer, and few teams will want to go up against them in the playoffs. With a bit of luck, this could well be the year when that playoff drought ends.