“I don’t have the patience to jack with you today,” was how a person on his weekly radio show opened up last Friday in Texas. The tone was worse than the words, and I suspect you will quickly realize that this was not how Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers) would have greeted anyone.
It is how Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones opened his weekly radio segment last week. The show was the day after his football team, for a third consecutive game, looked like a team playing out the string instead of competing for first place in their division. There was a time, less than a month ago, that the NFC race appeared to belong to the Cowboys without serious competition. Now, with just three games left in the season, the Cowboys have allowed a team with a losing record, the Philadelphia Eagles, to catch them.
What is going on in Dallas, and what happens this week when they host the suddenly resurgent Los Angeles Rams?
These two teams met in last year’s playoffs, the Rams won that game on the way to Super Bowl LIII. This year, the Rams are not likely to catch two of the best teams in the National Football Conference, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, in their division race, and the Cowboys are struggling in a suddenly hot battle with the Eagles.
This season started well for both the Rams and Cowboys in defense of their division titles. The Rams won their first three games over the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys downed the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins to open their 2019 campaign.
Now, 14 weeks into the season, we can see two things about those early results. The Rams victories came against much better competition, and the Cowboys wins were gained against teams that went on to have three of the worst records in the league. Problems for both teams began in fourth week action. The Rams lost on September 29 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Los Angeles, 55-40. The Cowboys lost that same day, at New Orleans, 12-10.
Those setbacks were the start of three game losing streaks for these two highly regarded teams coming into the season. The Rams followed their loss to the Buccaneers with defeats in Seattle and against the 49ers on their home field. Dallas followed their loss to the Saints with a home defeat suffered against the Green Bay Packers and against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
But, just when dirt was ready to be loaded onto the Rams prospects for the year, they have put together five wins in seven weeks which includes a season saving Sunday night victory last week over division rival Seattle.
The Cowboys have not had to chase two of the best teams in the conference in their division race. In fact, even though they lost three straight and four of their five most recent games, they have stayed ahead or even with the competition in the NFC East Division. Entering the 15th week of regular season play, half of the NFC East has already been eliminated mathematically from postseason consideration, the Redskins and Giants. Only the Eagles have a chance to overtake Dallas, and they come into play this week with a losing mark equal to Dallas with six wins and seven losses.
What this has created for these two teams is a need for the Rams to play well in order to catch their stiff division competition, and a soft spot with the Cowboys given even while losing seven of ten games they have not relinquished the top spot in their division. When a squad is chasing a division leader, they have motivation to win. It is akin to a second place race car that can go faster by picking up a draft from their first place opponent.
But, when a team is leading a division, and not challenged, they are like running into the wind. The Cowboys have not gained an edge by the need to overcome a front-runner.
That all changes this week. Now that Philadelphia has caught the Cowboys, Dallas will have their first burst in two months. Meanwhile, the Rams took advantage of their best shot to get back in the playoff hunt with their victory on Sunday over Seattle but this week become the hunted instead of the hunter.
The Rams recent success, has the bettors lining up to take them over the Cowboys this week when they visit Dallas. It is a natural public reaction, but the reason for the Rams success and failures for the Cowboys are now reversed, and it is Dallas, who has been wagered from a field goal favorite to a 1½ point underdog, who will have the eye of the tiger Sunday in Dallas.
That is why the Cowboys are going to beat Los Angeles this week, and why Jones will probably open his radio show this week with a little more upbeat message.
Qoxhi Picks: Dallas Cowboys (+1½) over Los Angeles Rams