Credit: Getty Images
Jason Garrett's Cowboys should be better than they were in 2011, but that's no guarantee of any kind of January success. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Thursday, Aug 23 at 4:27 PM
One thing I really hate about the NBA is that half the league makes the playoffs each season. I've always thought that Major League Baseball had it right with 4 teams from each league making the playoffs. Three division winners with one wildcard team seemed perfect from my standpoint. For some reason they added another, and now 10 teams will make the playoffs this year. I would suggest that we're not far away from a 12 team MLB postseason format.
While I would prefer the NFL roll with a 4 team per conference postseason, I think they've had a great deal of success with the current alignment that has been in place since 1990.
I know this is the time of year where excitement reigns supreme, realism is difficult to grasp and expectations are high for the Dallas Cowboy fan. This is not an attempt to bring down the football party, but an attempt to paint a more visible portrait of where the Cowboys will stand at the end of the season. Due to problems of their own, and a highly competitive NFC, I just don't see the Cowboys getting beyond game 16 in the 2012 slate.
Before vaguely getting into some of the crucial issues that the Cowboys have coming around the bend, I first want to take a glimpse at the rest of the NFC to help prove my belief that Dallas won't be one of the Top 6 in the conference.
Here's my breakdown of how the NFC will be represented by division...
NFC EAST: 1 TEAM
NFC NORTH: 2 TEAMS
NFC SOUTH: 2 TEAMS
NFC WEST: 1 TEAM
Looking at the East, in my estimation there's no real clear winner. Sure, the Giants won the Super Bowl, but they were also the 6 seed and missed the playoffs the year before. I don't really think the Eagles are a severe threat to be a top contender, but I do think they are currently a better team than Dallas. Washington is a hard team to get a read on, but either way I see Dallas as the 3rd or 4th best team in their own division. That doesn't bode well when you have to be one of the top 6 teams in your entire conference.
Moving to the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers, who were 15-1 last season, are a pretty popular pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The Detroit Lions proved last year how explosive they are, and I can't really wrap my mind around them not being in the playoffs. So two spots appear locked up right there -- and then we get into the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings will be pretty awful, but the Bears are just one year off losing the NFC Championship game and are expecting a big lift offensively with the reunion of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall.
So two spots come off the board, as we now move to the NFC South. Atlanta and New Orleans are easy choices to make the postseason. Despite the offseason distractions and a season in front of them without their head coach Sean Peyton, the Saints are stacked and probably pretty motivated after faltering last year. The Falcons are also loaded head to toe. That leaves Tampa Bay and Carolina as the teams left out.
The NFC West seems perpetually up for grabs, but I predict the San Francisco 49ers will defend their division title and represent the NFC West again. Look out for a surging Seattle team though. If they get some decent quarterback play out of Russell Wilson or Matt Flynn, then they could at least make a run at a wildcard spot. I fully expect the Rams and Cardinals to be horrible, but of course stranger things have happened, like the time my girlfriend broke up with me in order to date my best friend's dad.*
*Editor's note: Kevin probably gets more into that outrageous story on his personal blog, where he also writes more than your average blogger about scripted TV.
So to recap, I've got one team not named Dallas making it out of the East. Green Bay and Detroit coming out of the North. Atlanta and New Orleans out of the South, and San Francisco out of the West.
I think the Vikings, Buccaneers, and Rams are the only clear bottom feeders. To me, Dallas falls into the well-populated list of mediocre teams, right along with Arizona, Carolina, and Washington.
Just one step ahead of that tier is Chicago, Philadelphia, and Seattle, leaving us with the clear strength of the conference belonging to Atlanta, Detroit, Green Bay, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco.
Sure, these are just the way I see things unfolding in my crystal ball, but I don't even have Dallas in my second level of teams ready to step in and make some noise if one of the teams in my top tier should stumble. I just don't think Dallas is that good, or even reasonably close to being good enough to be a playoff team.
There are too many problems, and that's only been compounded by the ton of injuries in training camp. I really do expect the defense to be improved, but I don't think it's going to be a radical improvement. Offensively, I have significant concerns. When the offensive line struggles in the preseason, and even early on in the regular season there will be a lingering excuse that due to injuries, they weren't given the chance to get on the same page up front. I'm not saying they'll use the excuse, but it'll be there. Even before the hurricane of training camp injuries, why were the Cowboys trying to sell us that an interior offensive line of Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau, and Phil Costa would be acceptable?
Now there are question marks involving the center position, with the possible theory that Bernadeau could start the season there if David Arkin can't hold up. Bernadeau only played 125 downs last season. Last season Dallas averaged 63.6 offensive plays per game, so in 2011 Bernadeau was basically on the field for a total of what would have been two full Cowboys games. He's far from a sure thing, and the Cowboys are heavily reliant on him. As for Livings, he somehow cashed in despite an underwhelming 2011 accurately showcasing an underwhelming career resume. This was very evident in the playoffs, also... and really, I could go on, but all of this pessimism is making me queasy.
I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade, but I am trying to get real. This is not a 3-13 or 4-12 type of team, but I also don't think it's a 10-6 or 11-5 team. That's what it's going to take to make the playoffs, and even in my wildest dreams I just can't see the Cowboys playing in January.
Kevin Turner is a reporter for Sports Radio 1310 the Ticket. He likes music, (many kinds) TV (the good kinds) and sports. You can add to his ever-growing twitter army by following @kt1310.