Five Wonders: A wild-card possibility?

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
10:00
AM ET
IRVING, Texas -- It's a short week for the Dallas Cowboys with the Oakland Raiders visiting on Thanksgiving, but we're not shortening Five Wonders.

It's still five and we're still wondering.

On to the Wonders:
  • The easiest way for the Cowboys to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. With their 4-0 division record, the Cowboys appear to be in control there. But I wonder if they could sneak into a wild-card spot depending on how things play out. The Carolina Panthers (8-3) and San Francisco 49ers (7-4) hold the wild-card spots right now. The Panthers have two games left with the New Orleans Saints, whom they trail by a game in the NFC South race. San Francisco has an easier schedule the rest of the way and maybe Monday's win is a sign of things to come, but it is scuffling more than people expected. The Arizona Cardinals (7-4) play two teams with losing records the rest of the way and still have the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers. The Cowboys have head-to-head matchups against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in December that could aid their wild-card possibilities should the Philadelphia Eagles remain hot. Of course, it all could come down to Dec. 29 at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles for a third straight win-or-go-home game.
  • Because the Cowboys did not employ a dime defense at the start of the season, they felt they were safe in carrying only four cornerbacks -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick and B.W. Webb -- on the 53-man roster. They kept Micah Pellerin on the practice squad as insurance and needed Pellerin for a game. Now I wonder if keeping only four is catching up to them. Pellerin was cut last week and claimed by the Tennessee Titans, which forced the Cowboys to sign Sterling Moore on Monday now that Claiborne is out with a hamstring injury. Webb is OK in small doses, but it sure seems as if quarterbacks know when he is in the game, doesn't it? The Cowboys viewed Moore mostly as a slot player and did not believe he was worth keeping over Webb, a fourth-round pick. Until Claiborne got hurt, they were right, but the Cowboys now find themselves hoping Moore is in good shape and can pick up the defense quickly after nearly three months out of the game. Claiborne could be looking at a two-game absence again, if not three depending on the severity of his new hamstring injury.
  • I wonder if we'll see more Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar down the stretch. Jerry Jones made it a point of emphasis during the bye week that he wanted to see Dunbar get some snap. Dunbar had eight against the Giants and had 20 yards on three carries. His 18-yard run was the longest by a Dallas runner this season not named DeMarco Murray. He offers up a change of pace for this offense. He also caught two passes for 26 yards. So of the eight snaps, he delivered 46 yards, which is not a bad ratio. Escobar played in 12 snaps as the Cowboys used their “13 personnel” more and also had him split some of the No. 2 tight end work with James Hanna. Escobar also had his first catch since Oct. 6. He needs time to develop but he can be a decent outlet in the passing game because of his ability to make plays on the ball.
  • Sean Lee has plenty of incentive to get back on the field. First and foremost in his mind is to help the Cowboys win games. Lee is the best defender the Cowboys have, but he has missed all but one snap in the last seven quarters with a hamstring injury. He would like to play Thursday against the Oakland Raiders, but given the short week of preparation and the need for him to be healthy for the rest of the season, the Cowboys will most likely play it conservative. There is also a financial incentive. I wonder if Lee hits on the 80 percent play-time escalator in his contract that would boost his 2015 base salary from $2.5 million to $4 million. If Lee plays in 80 percent of the snaps this season or next, he would get the extra $1.5 million. Before getting hurt, Lee played in at least 97 percent of the snaps in eight of the Cowboys' first nine games. He played in 78 percent of the snaps in the blowout win against the St. Louis Rams and just 15 snaps against New Orleans before getting hurt. He has missed 127 snaps in the past two games. If he doesn't play against the Raiders, that could be another 60 snaps. The Cowboys are on pace for 1,123 defensive snaps this season and Lee would have to play in 898 snaps to reach 80 percent. I believe he gets it but he can't have any setbacks.
  • I wonder if Tony Romo makes the Pro Bowl. The voting rules have changed. It is no longer the top three quarterbacks per conference. It is six for the league. It's safe to think Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will get in. Tom Brady might not be having the typical Tom Brady season but he's still Tom Brady, so he should get voted in as well. Aaron Rodgers will miss his fourth straight game on Thursday with a broken collarbone, so he's not a lock. Seattle's Russell Wilson has the NFL's best record and good numbers. So where does Romo start to fit in? He's fourth in touchdown passes with 23. He is seventh in passer rating. He has cut back on his interceptions. He has directed two final-minute drives to lead the Cowboys to their last two wins. Who else could be in the mix? San Diego's Philip Rivers will be in there. Philadelphia's Nick Foles has 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He could be there too. Remember, the two quarterbacks from the Super Bowl teams won't play in the game, so that adds to the pool. If Romo does not make it, you'd have to wonder if there is a Cowboys' bias. I kid. I kid.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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