A few weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys looked like a shoe-in for the NFC Playoffs, possibly as champions of the NFC East. They were 6-1 in the standings after seven games, with legitimately awesome performances over likely playoff teams Seattle and New Orleans. But, heading into Thursday Night’s nationally televised battle with the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys are now in danger of limping off into the sunset in the season’s final month.

*Dallas is 8-4
*Dallas has three road games in its last four outings
*Dallas has to play talented and lethal Indianapolis in its only home game
*Dallas has to beat Philadelphia on the road to have any chance to win its division

Current math is suggesting its Wildcard or bust for the Cowboys. Can they beat the Philadelphia team on the road that just crushed them in Big D? There are only two Wildcard spots available. Dallas is fighting with Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco (or possibly Arizona in the NFC West behind Seattle) for those two spots. And, they’re doing so with:

*An injured quarterback trying to play with a bad back
*A bad defense that’s fading with fatigue
*A slumping team that’s 2-3 its last five games
*(With one of the wins coming over lowly Jacksonville!)

There are actually more issues about to be exposed in JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats. So, let’s run the numbers to see if Dallas can win as a small favorite in Chicago and re-launch a playoff bid. They’ve had some extra time to recover from the Thanksgiving debacle at the hands of Philadelphia. But, Chicago also played that day, so rest/preparation will cancel out.

Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
Dallas: 8-4 (#31 schedule in USA Today)
Chicago: 5-7 (#8 schedule in USA Today)

Here’s a hidden issue for the Pokes. They’ve played a very soft schedule! The stat blowouts over Seattle and New Orleans were legit. And, even though they’ve also faced current divisional leaders Arizona and Philadelphia, the slate still grades out as very soft according to Jeff Sagarin at USA Today. We haven’t talked much about Chicago yet. The Bears are a big disappointment, and may have thrown in the towel on the season given their non-effort over the last three quarters in Detroit. But, it seems they would likely be a .500 team against a league average schedule. That certainly gives them a chance to win this game against a fading favorite forced to play outside its normal climate.

Dallas: 6.0 on offense, 5.9 on defense
Chicago: 5.3 on offense, 6.0 on defense

In context…that’s bad news for both teams. Dallas is only +0.1 in differential despite playing one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. And, they’re defense grades out very badly in a league context. For its part, Chicago’s -0.7 throws some shade on the thought that they might be a .500 team against a league average schedule. They also have a lousy defense. Dallas doesn’t look like a playoff team any more (when you mentally adjust for schedule strength), and Chicago looks less like a live dog.

Turnover Differential
Dallas: -3
Chicago: -4

More bad news for both! Tony Romo is back to being a turnover machine because he has to force passes when pressured. His back injury keeps him from running out of trouble. Jay Cutler has always been an interception waiting to happen. This came could end up being a mistake-fest. If weather is an issue (always a possibility in Chicago in December), what a mess!

Market Performance
Dallas: 6-6 ATS
Chicago: 5-7 ATS


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