Tony Romo returns: Can Dallas Cowboys still make Playoffs?

romo-romo-cowboysFor any normal NFL team, a 2-7 record would mean no hope for the playoffs and a high draft pick in the spring. But the Dallas Cowboys are a different breed of 2-7 team, namely because Tony Romo is back under center. The four-time Pro Bowler has missed all but two games this season with a broken collarbone. And the results have been evident for the Cowboys, who are 2-0 with Romo and 0-7 in his absence. So now that he’s healthy again, does Dallas still have a chance to make the playoffs? Let’s discuss this by looking at a few different factors below.

1. The NFC East is Weak

Before the 2015 NFL season began, the NFC looked like it could be a somewhat tough division. Dallas was coming off a 12-4 season, Philadelphia was 10-6 last year, and the New York Giants were mediocre. But then Romo got hurt, Philly’s new offense failed to gel, New York didn’t capitalize on key opportunities, and division-doormat Washington somehow snuck into the race. Right now, New York leads the division with a 5-5 record, followed by both the Eagles and Redskins at 4-5.

This puts Dallas three games behind the NFC East leader and two games out of second place. With seven contests left, they possibly have enough time to leapfrog all three teams—depending upon how everybody plays. What’s more is that neither New York, Philly nor Washington seems to have the talent to close out the division with a stellar run.

2. Backup Quarterbacks killed Dallas

brandon-weeden-cowboysRomo is giving the Cowboys a boost exactly where they need it. In relief of Romo, Dallas tried Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel, neither of whom could lead this team to a single victory. For Weeden’s part, the numbers weren’t bad; he just didn’t do enough to get touchdowns in the red zone (2TD passes in 3 games). As for Cassel, he did a little better job of throwing for touchdowns (4TD passes), but he also threw five interceptions in four contests. Long story short, this team will more than welcome back Romo and his 113.2 QBR from last season.

3. The Schedule is Tough

One knock against the Cowboys’ chances of making the postseason is their schedule. Their easiest opponents include: @Miami and Washington (twice)—neither of which is a complete cakewalk. Their other games include: Carolina, @Green Bay, NY Jets and @Buffalo. All of these teams have winning records and Carolina is undefeated. Surviving this stretch might have been easier last year, when DeMarco Murray was running over opponents, but it’s going to be much harder this time around.

4. Dallas is not a Complete Team

Minnesota Vikings v Dallas CowboysIt’s not like the return of Romo automatically means this is the best team in the NFC East. Murray is running the football in Philadelphia, and Darren McFadden is starting running back this season. McFadden has done okay with 494 rushing yards and a 3.8 YPC average, but he hasn’t gone for 1,000 yards in a season since 2010. There’s little to back him up either since the early season starter, Joseph Randle, was dismissed from the team for personal problems. The defense also isn’t perfect in Dallas, ranking 17th in total defense; however, it’s serviceable enough if the offense is clicking.

Final Verdict

As mentioned before, Romo is filling the exact position that Dallas has sorely needed ever since his Week 2 injury. So this gives the Cowboys a chance to win in each of their last seven games. However, Dallas lost some pretty winnable games against the Saints and Buccaneers when Romo was out. This will come back to haunt them as they face some of their toughest opponents of the season over the final seven contests.

It seems that the biggest bonus for Dallas is that the NFC East isn’t particularly strong. However, they’d probably still have to go at least 5-2 or 6-1 to have any hope of winning the division. We see Dallas winning four out of their next seven and finishing at 6-10, but maybe they’ll surprise us. Now here’s a look at our betting line for their next game.

Dallas vs. Miami (11/22 at 1:00pm EST)
Dallas -1 (-115)
Miami (-105)

NFL Power Rankings for Week 4 (Sept. 25th, 2014)

marshawn-lynch-broncosIt wasn’t hard to spot the marquee matchup from last week. In a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos visited the Seattle Seahawks. Denver mounted a furious comeback to send the game into overtime, however, Seattle survived thanks to a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run. That said, it seems like Seattle should be a slam dunk for our new number one. But the truth is that it wasn’t easy picking between the two, seeing as how Denver was on the road and pushed the game into overtime. So you might be a little surprised at who’s still the top team in our Week 4 power rankings.

1. Denver Broncos (2-1); lost to Seattle Seahawks 26-20 (OT), retains same ranking – The Broncos failed to get revenge for last year’s Super Bowl humiliation. But they certainly earned some respect by nearly walking out of Seattle with a victory. Emmanuel Sanders was brilliant in this game after catching 11 passes for 149 yards. He’s another weapon that should make the Broncos’ offense unstoppable throughout the rest of the season.

2. Seattle Seahawks (2-1); beat Denver 26-20 (OT), retains same ranking – The Seahawks are nearly as deserving of the top ranking, but on a neutral field, we like the Broncos just a little better right now. It certainly doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that Seattle and Denver could meet in the championship for a second straight season.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-0); beat Tennessee Titans 33-7, moves up two spots – The Bengals’ line has been outstanding on both sides of the ball. Andy Dalton hasn’t taken a sack yet and the defense continues stuffing opposing runners when it matters most. All bets are on the Broncos returning to the Super Bowl from the AFC. But if there’s a team to dethrone them as AFC champions, it is definitely Cincinnati.

lesean-mccoy4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-0); beat Washington 37-34, retains same ranking – It’s amazing how the Eagles continue falling behind early in games, only to storm back and claim victory. In fact, they’re now the first team in NFL history to trail by double digits in their first three games and come out 3-0. Is it pure luck? No, Philadelphia just has too many weapons for teams to keep them down for long. But then again, this is a dangerous trend that they’re walking on.

5. New England Patriots (2-1); beat Oakland 16-9, drops two spots – A week ago, we had the Patriots sitting at number three after their blowout victory over Minnesota. However, they looked pretty bad at home against the Raiders and needed a Vince Wilfork interception near the goal line to secure a win. New England has better days in them, but we certainly didn’t see this last weekend.

6. Arizona Cardinals (3-0); beat San Francisco 23-14, moves up five spots – Many expected Seattle and San Francisco to battle it out for the NFC West crown. However, it’s the Cardinals who are leading the way with an undefeated record – and they’re doing it without starting QB Carson Palmer! Drew Stanton’s fill-in job has been made much easier by a trio of strong receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Malcolm Floyd and rookie John Brown.

7. Chicago Bears (2-1); beat New York Jets 27-19, moves up three spots – For the second straight week, the Bears grabbed a tough road victory, thus further distancing themselves from a Week 1 loss to the Bills. Ryan Mundy really helped out with the latest win, taking a Geno Smith interception to the end zone while outrunning speedster Chris Johnson.

drew-brees8. New Orleans Saints (1-2); beat Minnesota 20-9, moves up one spot – New Orleans finally got in the win column with a relatively easy victory over the Vikings. They put up 13 points in the first quarter and the defense did the rest from here. Drew Brees really attacked Minnesota underneath, completing 16-of-16 throws for 126 yards on passes thrown 5 yards or less downfield.

9. San Francisco 49ers (1-2); lost to Arizona Cardinals 23-14 drops three spots – True to form this season, the 49ers jumped out to a 14-6 lead in the first half, only to be dominated in the second half. San Francisco has put up 3 points in second halves while their opponents have scored 49. If Jim Harbaugh is losing control of this team, it’s definitely after the first half.

10. San Diego Chargers (2-1); beat Buffalo Bills 22-10, moves up three spots – The only team to beat Seattle this year got another big victory over the upstart Bills. Unfortunately, they also lost RB Danny Woodhead for the season, which will hurt. This is especially the case when you consider that the team is averaging under 3.0 yards per rush. But as long as they keep winning, this is just a stat.

11. Indianapolis Colts (1-2); beat Jacksonville Jaguars 44-17, moves up one spot – Nobody really expected Indianapolis to remain winless after a visit to Jacksonville. And Andrew Luck showed why by unleashing 4 touchdowns and 370 yards in this blowout. The game could have been even uglier if the Colts hadn’t let off the gas after going up 30-0 in the first half.

eddie-lacy-rookie-of-the-year12. Green Bay Packers (1-2); lost to Detroit 19-7, drops five spots – It’s hard to remember a time when Green Bay’s offense looked so ineffective with Aaron Rodgers under center. Rodgers threw for just 162 yards while Eddie Lacy was bottled up for 36 rushing yards on 11 carries. We’re still waiting for the latter to get going, which could finally happen against the Bears this weekend.

13. Carolina Panthers (2-1); lost to Pittsburgh 37-19, drops five spots – We can’t understand how a defense that looked so dominate in the first two weeks could be so bad against the Steelers. They allowed both Le’Veon Bell and Legarrette Bount to rush for over 100 yards – including 244 yards between tackles. Maybe the lengthy loss of Greg Hardy to a domestic abuse case will hurt far more than we realized.

14. Baltimore Ravens (2-1); beat Cleveland Browns 23-21, moves up one spot – Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett combined to rush for 154 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown, while Baltimore was able to hang on and beat the Browns in a difficult road game. We don’t see anybody knocking off the Bengals for the AFC North crown, but Baltimore has a solid shot at the postseason if they can keep running the ball like this.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1); beat Carolina Panthers 37-19, moves up two spots – As mentioned before, Blount and Bell both had 100-yard games – the first time that this has happened for Pittsburgh since 1986. This was basically a 180-degree turn from the week before against Baltimore, when the Steelers couldn’t seem to get anything going on the ground.

16. Detroit Lions (2-1); beat Green Bay 19-7, moves up three spots – The Lions are doing a fantastic job at stopping the run this year, as their 2.8 yards allowed per carry stat indicates. Things could get a little tougher since Stephen Tulloch was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. But Detroit still has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to continue grabbing victories.

julio-jones-falcons17. Atlanta Falcons (2-1); beat Tampa Bay 56-14, moves up one spot – Julio Jones tore the Buccaneers defense up by catching 9 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. The main issue here remains the running game, but the passing game should help make up for some of the lack of run production.

18. Kansas City Chiefs (1-2); beat Miami 34-15, moves up two spots – Knile Davis filled in nicely for Jamaal Charles with 132 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. Alex Smith also provided three touchdown passes, despite getting sacked five times. With Charles likely back from injury this week, KC will get a boost.

19. Buffalo Bills (2-1); lost to San Diego 22-10, drops five spots – Quarterback E.J. Manuel confirmed the inaccuracy fears that surrounded him in the preseason by throwing several passes way off target. He avoided tossing any picks, but this could be one of the worst non-interception games in history. Manuel must play better or the high-paid backup Kyle Orton will be seeing some snaps.

20. Dallas Cowboys (2-1); beat St. Louis 34-31, moves up two spots – Dallas had to mount a huge comeback here since they fell behind 21-0. They took control in the second half after being sparked by a 68-yard touchdown catch by Dez Bryant. The run game was working again too with DeMarco Murray running for 100 yards on 24 carries.

lamar-miller-chiefs21. Miami Dolphins (1-2); lost to Kansas City 34-15, drops five spots – Lamar Miller has picked up the rushing torch with Knowshon Moreno still sidelined. Miller ran for 108 yards on only 15 carries. However, it was hard for Miami to stay with their effective run game since their defense gave up so many points. Additionally, Ryan Tannehill didn’t look very good against pressure, finishing with 205 yards on 21-of-43 passing.

22. New York Jets (1-2); lost to Chicago Bears 27-19, drops one spot – The Jets lose another close game after coughing up three turnovers and delivering an interception that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown. They also had six red zone drives, only to come away with points on just one of these. This team could easily be 3-0 if they could capitalize on opportunities and close out games.

23. New York Giants (1-2); beat Houston Texans 30-17, moves up seven spots – We’re not enamored with the Giants, it’s just that from here on, there aren’t many good teams left. New York got their first win of 2014, and Victor Cruz caught his first touchdown since Week 4 of last season.

24. St. Louis (1-2); lost to Dallas 34-31, drops one spot – Austin Davis continues to surprise skeptics, who thought that this team was done when Sam Bradford went down with an injury. Unfortunately, his solid play didn’t translate into a victory this time around as the Rams blew a 21-point lead.

25. Houston Texans (2-1); lost to New York Giants 30-17, drops one spot – Rashad Jennings tore this team up with a career-high 176 rushing yards. And it didn’t help matters that Ryan Fitzpatrick threw 3 interceptions – all of them on downfield throws. But Houston avoids moving down too much because they do have a couple of victories.

26. Tennessee Titans (1-2); lost to Cincinnati Bengals 33-7, drops one spot – Tennessee was completely dominated by Cincinnati, although we’ll give them a little credit since this was an impossible road game. Rookie Bishop Sankey rushed for 61 yards on 10 carries in garbage time. Perhaps he’s prepping to finally get some meaningful carries over Shonn Greene.

27. Cleveland Browns (1-2); lost to Baltimore 23-21, moves up one spot – Cleveland continues to play tough against superior opponents, however, they came up short this time around. The Browns’ two losses, which came against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, are by a combined 5 points. This is definitely a team that can win once the schedule softens up a little.

28. Washington Redskins (1-2); lost to Philadelphia 37-34, moves up one spot – Kirk Cousins continues to energize this team as he finished with 427 passing yards, 3 TD’s and one interception. Unfortunately, he and the Skins fell just short of winning a HUGE road game. Washington has now lost seven straight divisional games, which is more than anybody else in the league right now.

29. Minnesota Vikings (1-2); lost to New Orleans 20-9, drops three spots – The Vikings didn’t perform too badly against the Saints, losing by just 11 points. However, there’s more trouble ahead with season-ending injuries to Matt Cassel and Kyle Rudolph. When coupled with the loss of Adrian Peterson, this bodes very poorly for the offense. But at least fans will get to see exciting rookie Teddy Bridgewater take over at QB.

30. Oakland Raiders (0-3); lost to New England Patriots 16-9, moves up one spot – The Raiders can be happy that they almost beat a really good team that’s probably going to win their division. However, the downside is that this still goes down as another loss in the books. Dating back to last season, Oakland is on a 9-game losing streak.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3); lost to Atlanta Falcons 56-14, drops three spots – Any illusions of a rebound season for Tampa Bay were shot down in this devastating blowout to the Falcons. The Josh McCown experiment looks like a failure and he’ll miss the next game with an injury. This opens the door for Mike Glennon to win back the starting job that he held for most of last season.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3); lost to Indianapolis Colts 44-17, drops one spot – For the second straight season, Jacksonville looks absolutely hopeless. But it will be interesting to see what Blake Bortles can do with the variety of receiving options that he has.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 4 (Sept. 25th, 2013)

jamaal-charlesEvery year there are teams that flip flop from one NFL season to the next. But this trend has gone to the extreme in 2013, with non-playoff teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears all starting off 3-0. The Chiefs are especially noteworthy here because they’ve already beaten their 2012 win total of two games. Few people expected the Dolphins to be so competitive early on either.

On the other side of the equation are traditional powers like the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings. All expected to compete for a playoff spot, but these teams are now 0-3. The Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers haven’t been much better since last year’s NFC Championship participants are sitting at 1-2. So how does all of this affect our latest power rankings? Here’s the answer…

1. Denver Broncos (3-0); beat Oakland Raiders 37-21, retains same ranking – With 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns, Peyton Manning and this offense have looked nearly invincible. We don’t expect the Broncos to cruise through every game as they’ve done in their 3-0 start. But it’s also hard to see anybody stopping them in the near future.

2. Seattle Seahawks (3-0); beat Jacksonville 45-17, retains same ranking – Denver and Seattle are in a class all by themselves in the early going. Sure Seattle is coming off a victory over the lowly Jaguars, but their blowout of San Francisco still remains fresh in our minds.

3. New Orleans Saints (3-0); beat Arizona 31-7, retains same rankingThe Saints ended any misconceptions about Arizona being able to compete with the big boys. After a disappointing year where they missed the postseason, New Orleans looks like the NFC South favorite.

4. New England Patriots (3-0); beat Tampa Bay 23-3, moves up 2 spots – After numerous worries about their young receiving corp, the Patriots got on track thanks to two Kenbrell Thompkins TD’s. New England was fortunate enough to have three cupcake teams in a row to tune up their new-look offense.

5. Chicago Bears (3-0); beat Pittsburgh 40-23, moves up 5 spots – Every time that the Steelers got close, the Bears defense came up big by forcing a turnover. The Major Wright 38-yard interception return for a TD right before halftime was huge.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (2-1); beat Green Bay 34-30, moves up 3 spots – This is an impressive win by the Bengals against a tough opponent, especially when they surrendered four turnovers to the Pack. Cincinnati could go a long way if they can ever figure out how to utilize all of their offensive weapons.

7. Miami Dolphins (3-0); beat Atlanta 27-23, moves up 4 spots – Miami ryan-tannehillpassed their first true test of the season with flying colors. Ryan Tannehill rebounded from a poor first half to post numbers of 236 passing yards, 2 TD’s and 1 INT.

8. Kansas City Chiefs (3-0); beat Philadelphia 26-16, moves up 4 spots – This team has a number of questions in the passing game, where Alex Smith doesn’t exactly throw the long ball too well. However, the Chiefs’ defense has been outstanding in their first three games.

9. San Francisco 49ers (1-2); lost to Indianapolis 27-7, drops 4 spots – Getting beat up by the Seahawks in Seattle was understandable. Getting beat up at home against the Colts is a little different story. Colin Kaepernick and this offense have to get going after scoring just 10 points in the last two games.

10. Baltimore Ravens (2-1); beat Houston 30-9, moves up 3 spots – Up until last weekend, the Ravens hadn’t shown anything worthy of being able to defend their Super Bowl championship. But the defense finally gelled as a unit against the Texans, shutting down their vaunted run game in the process.

11. Houston Texans; lost to Baltimore 30-9, drops 7 spots – Houston started this game strong, but quickly lost momentum with their offense failing to move the ball. Part of this was the Ravens defense, but part of it was also QB Matt Schaub’s failure to convert big plays.

12. Atlanta Falcons (1-2); lost to Miami 27-23, drops 4 spots – The Falcons offense is still fairly high powered, even in the absence of Steven Jackson. However, the defense hasn’t looked too good over the first three games.

13. Indianapolis Colts (2-1); beat San Francisco 27-7, moves up 3 spots – The Colts showed a lot by going into Candlestick Park and dominating the 49ers. The defense came up huge against Kaepernick. Indianapolis may finally have a strong run game too with both Ahmad Bradshw and Trent Richardson carrying the ball.

14. Green Bay Packers (1-2); lost to Cincinnati 34-30, drops 7 spotsjohnathan-franklin-fumbleGreen Bay lost the ball four times, including a crucial Johnathan Franklin fumble on fourth and inches that was returned for a touchdown. Give credit to the Bengals for playing well, but take credit away from Green Bay for playing so carelessly.

15. Detroit Lions (2-1); beat Washington 27-20, retains same ranking – The NFC North is starting to look pretty crowded with the Bears, Packers and Lions all vying for playoff spots. If Detroit can keep Reggie Bush healthy, they’ll be right in the thick of the division title race.

16. Dallas Cowboys (2-1); beat St. Louis 31-7, retains same ranking – The Rams must hate DeMarco Murray. Two years after he torched them for 253 yards as a rookie, Murray racked up 175 yards on the ground against St. Louis last Sunday. Hopefully Dallas doesn’t forget about the run game again after this performance.

17. Tennessee Titans (2-1); beat San Diego 20-17, moves up 4 spots – Jake Locker had his best game as a pro after throwing for 299 yards and running for another 68 yards. But Locker and the Titans can’t get too cocky since San Diego had three starters out.

18. New York Jets (2-1); beat Buffalo 27-20, moves up 9 spots – Many people thought that the Jets would be laughable this year, thanks in large part to their quarterback debacle. However, rookie Geno Smith cleared up the debacle and has given this team a real weapon. Bilal Powell has emerged as a feature back after rushing for a career-high 149 yards against Buffalo.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2); lost to Kansas City 26-16, drops 5 spots – Following a breakout first game, Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense is failing to produce wins. Michael Vick completed just 13-of-30 passes for 201 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.

20. San Diego Chargers (1-2); lost to Tennessee 20-17, retains same ranking – With most teams losing behind them and several injured starters, San Diego stays put at number 20. This team is really just a few plays away from being 3-0.

21. Carolina Panthers (1-2); beat New York Giants 38-0, moves up 8 spots – After putting a thorough home beating on the Giants, Carolina moves up amidst so many back-end teams losing. The defense was stout while Cam Newton finally put up some good numbers (223PYDS, 45RYDS, 4TD, 1INT).

22. St. Louis Rams (1-2); lost to Dallas 31-7, drops 4 spots – St. Louis demarco-murray-ramsreally got gashed by both Tony Romo and Murray. This hurts bad after beating Arizona and losing by just a touchdown against Atlanta.

23. Arizona Cardinals (1-2); lost to New Orleans 31-7, drops 4 spots – Nobody expected the Cardinals to beat New Orleans. But they at least have to protect Carson Palmer, who was sacked four times.

24. New York Giants (0-3); lost to Carolina 38-0, drops 2 spots – Are the G-Men really this bad? Probably not, but they’d better show something soon because New York fans are getting impatient.

25. Buffalo Bills (1-2); lost to New York Jets 27-20, drops 2 spots – Buffalo has played very competitive this year, and if they can get CJ Spiller going, the ground game will be extremely tough.

26. Washington Redskins (0-3); lost to Detroit 27-20, drops 2 spots – The Redskins secondary is once again terrible and this team can’t stop anybody. At least RG III is putting up yards though.

27. Cleveland Browns (1-2); beat Minnesota 31-27, moves up 5 spots – Having been written off by everybody after the Trent Richardson trade, Cleveland came out and won on the road with backup QB Brian Hoyer. Don’t expect a lot more of these winning efforts though.

28. Minnesota Vikings (0-3); lost to Cleveland 31-27, drops 3 spots – A week after losing to Chicago in a close one, Minnesota comes out at home and loses to the lowly Browns. So where does this leave the Vikings?

29. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3); lost to Chicago 40-23, drops 3 spots – Few people expected Pittsburgh to be in the AFC North cellar after four games. But the offense just can’t produce when it counts.

30. Oakland Raiders (1-2); lost to Denver 37-21, drops 2 spots – Yes, this is still the Raiders and they never really challenged Denver. But there is some excitement in the air over Terrelle Pryor and the energized offense.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3); lost to New England 23-3, drops 1 spot – The Josh Freeman era in Tampa Bay looks to be over as the fifth-year veteran was replaced by rookie Mike Glennon this week.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3); lost to Seattle 45-17, retains same ranking – At least the Jaguars were able to muster some offense in a game this season. They scored 17 second-half points, but the game was already out of hand.