Either the powers that aligned the National Football League are weak on geography or there is another reason why they decided to plot the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. Dallas is in Texas, and if you think Texas is in the east you might head north from Oregon to visit Disneyland.
The reason the Cowboys are in the NFC East is not based on geography, but rather competition to sell the NFL product. In 1960, when the Dallas Cowboys were first formed as a franchise, they became the league’s 13th franchise and left the league with six teams in the Eastern Conference and seven teams in the Western Conference, one of which was Dallas.
In 1961, the league escaped odd number of teams hell by adding a 14th franchise, the Minnesota Vikings, and moved Dallas to the Eastern Conference and had the new Vikings team playing out of the Western Conference. In those days, the conference’s were established much more on establishing rivalries than concerned about geographical factors.
The fact that the Vikings were with the Baltimore Colts, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears in the Western Conference had little to do with geography and more tied to the fact that at the time there just weren’t enough teams in the western states to comprise a division. The only two teams in the league with western zip codes were San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
In 1966, the NFL added a 15th team, the Atlanta Falcons, and for only one season played with a league that had eight teams in the Eastern Conference and seven teams in Western. A year later, the league realigned to four divisions playing out of two conferences. The Capitol and Century Divisions played out of the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference had the Coastal and Central Divisions. That year, they also added a 16th franchise, the New Orleans Saints.
That same year, 1966, the National Football League and American Football League announced a merger that would create a championship game between the two leagues and result in an alignment of two conferences, the American and National, with three divisions in each to begin in 1970. Which teams from the NFL would join in the American Football Conference required the league to shift three established NFL teams to the AFC side of the bracket. Those three teams were the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns.
Once again, the alignment was not done with only geography employed to determine the divisions, but more importantly the protection of spirited competition between rivals. While the Cowboys were playing out of the east, their contests against the Washington Redskins became some of the most anticipated games on the schedule. Thanksgiving Day routinely had the Cowboys hosting the Redskins for the holiday feature.
Okay, now you know more of why the Cowboys ended up in the Eastern Conference, but what does that have to do with tonight’s game in Dallas when they host the Philadelphia Eagles in a game that will decide first place in the division?
It means this, tonight’s game is more than just a battle between two teams playing out of the league’s weakest division, it is a battle that could go a long way in determining who wins the NFC East.
The Cowboys lost their opener to defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay in a game that was closer than most people had anticipated. The Buccaneers required a late field goal to eek out a 31-29 decision. The Cowboys followed up that narrow loss with an overtime victory over the talented Los Angeles Chargers, who yesterday pinned the Kansas City Chiefs with a loss on their home field.
Meanwhile, the Eagles one win and one loss came in an opposite order. They were underdogs to the Atlanta Falcons in their season opener and ripped through the home team with a 32-6 triumph. Last week, in their home opener, Philadelphia fell to the highly regarded San Francisco 49ers, 17-11.
What does that leave us with tonight?
An Eagles team that as an underdog were able to surprise a suspect Falcons team and play toe-to-toe with the 49ers. They are underdogs again tonight, and in this rivalry points on the spread could easily be the determining factor in which team pays their backers.
Still, the Cowboys are right now the superior team with veteran quarterback Dak Prescott regaining his form after missing last season due to injury. From a football perspective, this is an easy one to call in favor of Dallas, but from an investment perspective the edge shifts slightly to the visitors.
Here is why. The Cowboys were installed as a four point favorite and while 62% of all public wagers on this game have come in on Mike McCarthy’s squad, the line has moved down a half point. That indicates the public and wise guys are on opposite sides tonight, and I seldom have enough reasons to bet against wise guy money.
Tonight, I also don’t have enough reasons to bet with it either.