Cowboys rise to top of NFC East race
How ‘bout them Cowboys?
They’ve built a healthy lead on the rest of the NFC at the midpoint of this season, for starters. They’ve been playing like they’re capable of finishing on top, too.
Defying so many of those pre-September predictions from the punditry, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have followed a one-point loss in their opener with seven straight victories. This, of course, with an all-rookie backfield of Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott performing well beyond their years.
“We’re so dynamic it’s crazy,” said two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant, whose threegame absence due to a knee injury went largely unnoticed.
That’s partly because of the polish and poise displayed by Prescott, the fourth-round draft pick from
Mississippi State thrust into action when Tony Romo hurt his back during the preseason. The other significant factor in the first-half surge by the Cowboys, as sure a sign as any that it’s sustainable, is the success Elliott has had carrying the ball behind that dominant offensive line built by three former firstround draft picks.
This fall has been so fruitful for Dallas that Romo isn’t guaranteed to get the job back.
“It’s hard for me to say it’s Tony’s team, it’s my team or anybody’s team,” Prescott said. “It’s a true team, and everybody is playing their part in it.”
That fearsome five the Cowboys (7-1) can pass and run behind is not the only factor in their command of the NFC playoff race. Another reason they’re ahead is the struggles by other contenders, namely Seattle and Minnesota, to solidify the blocking up front.
The Seahawks (5-2-1) have had trouble getting their offense going this year, with running back Marshawn Lynch now retired and Russell Wilson grinding through ankle and knee injuries that have hampered his mobility. The revamped line remains a work in progress.
The Vikings (5-3) had the NFL’s last undefeated record, until their bye week arrived. Since then, they’ve lost all three straight games with issues on offense, defense and special teams all influencing the streak. With both starting tackles on injured reserve and left guard
Alex Boone recovering from a concussion that kept him out of the overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday, the protection for quarterback Sam Bradford is going to be a yearlong concern.
After the crushing loss at home to the Lions, coach Mike Zimmer at least sounded satisfied that some confidence had been restored.
“I’m hopeful they’ll continue to carry it forward through the rest of the season, because if we do that we’re going to win some games,” Zimmer said.
The Atlanta Falcons (63) have already escaped their October skid, having rallied to beat Green Bay by one point on Oct. 30 and breezed by Tampa Bay four days later. The league’s highest-scoring team, at 34 points per game, has assembled many more threats than just star wide receiver Julio Jones .
“We’re at our best when we keep attacking and different guys get the ball,” coach Dan Quinn said.
Here are some other facts and figures about the NFC entering the stretch run:
FALL OF THE FINALISTS
Carolina carried plenty of confidence, coming off a trip to the Super Bowl, along with a reputable defense and the NFL’s most recent MVP, Cam Newton. The Panthers (3-5) instead have been one of the league’s biggest early letdowns. The team they blew out in the NFC championship game last winter, Arizona, has struggled right along with them. The Cardinals (3-4-1) lost the rematch to the Panthers on Oct. 30.