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Cowboys' Playoff Hopes Somehow off Life Support, Thriving Heading to Thanksgiving

Jason Garrett, coaching cockroachEXPAND
Jason Garrett, coaching cockroach
Keith Allison

Jason Garrett's coaching career is a cockroach. Ugly, basically untouched by evolution and capable of surviving anything short of global annihilation. Two weeks after being left for dead following a desultory performance in a Monday night loss to the Tennessee Titans at home, the Cowboys knocked off the Falcons in Atlanta. Against all odds, the 2018 Cowboys are not only surviving, but thriving as they ready for their last six games.

The Cowboys' win Sunday capped a two-game stretch in which they beat the NFC's last two champions on the road. Combined with the Redskins' loss to Houston on Sunday, it leaves the Cowboys just a game back in the NFC East and, almost inexplicably, the favorites to win the division headed into a Thanksgiving Day showdown with Washington.

According to the good and wise NFL predictions engine at the sports and politics statistics website FiveThirtyEight, the Cowboys have a 46 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 39 percent chance of winning the NFC East following their 22-19 win Sunday. The Redskins are the nominal favorite to win the division, with the engine calculating their playoff chances at 54 percent and their divisional chances at 42 percent.

There's one big reason those numbers are a little off, however. As you likely heard about, but hopefully did not see, Redskins starting quarterback Alex Smith suffered a horrific injury against the Texans on Sunday, snapping both his tibia and fibula. FiveThirtyEight's playoff predictor doesn't account for injuries and the Redskins' QB situation is now a disaster, with University of Texas-ex Colt McCoy taking over the reins.

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Thursday afternoon, the Cowboys and their stingy defense will get to take on McCoy at his least prepared. Oddsmakers have installed Dallas as an 8.5 point favorite. A win ties up the division and the teams' season series, setting up Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and their fearless leader for an unlikely march to the playoffs.
In order, the Cowboys play the Saints in Arlington, the Eagles in Arlington, the Colts in Indianapolis, the Buccaneers in Arlington and the Giants in New Jersey in their five post-Thanksgiving games. While the Saints are the best team in football, the Cowboys that have shown up for the team's last two games should win three of the other four contests.

Against the Eagles and Falcons, the Cowboys' offense, dormant during 2018's first half, has awakened. The addition of former Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper via trade has allowed offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to manipulate opposing secondaries, creating opportunities for Prescott and the passing game. A capable passing attack has exploited openings, thanks to Elliott, that simply weren't there early in the season, leading to a resurgence of what had been one of the NFL's most potent rushing attacks. The offense isn't what it was in 2016, when it was one of the five best offenses in the NFL, but it's finally been good enough to complement a young defense that's quickly becoming one of the NFC's elite units.

Wins in three of its last four should leave Garrett's team with a 9-7 record and, thanks to a division that might charitably be described as a dumpster fire, a possible NFC East championship. A first-round playoff exit might still find Garrett squished under Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' boot, but he's skittered away after worse. 

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