Commentary

NFC East is Dallas Cowboys' to claim

With favorable schedule ahead, the Cowboys are only a game back of first-place Giants

Updated: November 15, 2011, 2:52 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Sunday couldn't have been much sweeter for the Dallas Cowboys.

They blew out the Buffalo Bills at Cowboys Stadium, rolling to the franchise's most lopsided win in more than a decade. And their two primary NFC East rivals lost.

The Dream Team, aka the Philadelphia Eagles, essentially sealed its doom by losing to a bad team led by a backup quarterback. The first-place New York Giants, whose comeback attempt in San Francisco came up short, are only a game up on the Cowboys.

Suddenly, the NFC East is the Cowboys' division to claim.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezTony Romo is completely recovered from a broken rib and coming off one of the best performances of his career.
Never mind that the Cowboys are only a couple of weeks removed from an embarrassing butt-kicking that dropped their record under .500. Focus on the future, which looks as bright as Dez Bryant's (unpaid for) bling around Valley Ranch right now.

The Cowboys, of course, won't get too far ahead of themselves. They've bought into coach Jason Garrett's boring but effective "Be Great Today" mantra.

"I live in the real world," Garrett said. "I am certainly aware of what the records are of the teams in our division. But if you get so focused on how this team did against them, especially early on in the season in particular, then you are not focused on the right thing."

Garrett's minute-by-minute approach has worked well enough for the Cowboys to be in control of their destiny with seven games remaining in the season. They're guaranteed at least one home playoff game if they run the table the rest of the regular season, including a Dec. 11 home date and New Year's Day road trip against the Giants.

OK, a nine-game winning streak entering the playoffs is probably expecting a bit too much (especially considering my preseason prediction of 8-8 for the Cowboys). But they don't have to be perfect down the stretch, just better than a Giants team that has lost to the Redskins and Seahawks.

There are plenty of good reasons to believe that the Cowboys are beginning to get on a roll -- and not just because the upcoming opponents would have a hard time winning the Big 12.

The Cowboys reeled off three double-digit wins in the last four weeks, making the debacle in Philadelphia look like an aberration. Tony Romo is completely recovered from a broken rib and coming off arguably the best performance of his career. He has a dynamic workhorse behind him in DeMarco Murray. An offensive line that was awful early in the season has jelled. Rob Ryan's defense needs to get right against the run again, but it is forcing turnovers in bunches.

"I think the great teams get going right about now," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "We need to start stacking up those wins. It's that time of year."

It's also that stretch of the schedule. Just look over the next few weeks.

The Cowboys will go to FedEx Field to try to extend the Washington Redskins' losing streak to six games, welcome the dreadful Miami Dolphins for Thanksgiving and hit the road again to face the out-of-contention Arizona Cardinals. Combined record of opponents: 8-19.

In the same stretch, the Giants face the talented but tanking Eagles at home, travel to the Big Easy to play the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints and host the undefeated defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Combined record of opponents: 19-9.

It'd be surprising if the Cowboys didn't at least pull even in the division standings by the time the Giants come to town.

In the Valley Ranch bubble, the NFC East race is compartmentalized in the back of the Cowboys' minds. In the real world, the division title is well within their reach.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

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