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Why the Dallas Cowboys haven’t proven they are real Super Bowl contenders in 2023

Dallas Cowboys
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are the undisputed masters of the blowout victory during the 2023 NFL season.

In their nine wins, the Cowboys’ average margin of victory is 24.1 points. They’ve won four games by 30-plus points. They’ve won seven games by 20-plus points.

The Dallas Cowboys bludgeon teams so emphatically you’d think they were the NFL’s most unbeatable team. But they’re not. Not now, and not at any point this season.

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That’s because the Dallas Cowboys, for all their one-sided romps and mind-blowing statistics and superstar performances, still haven’t satisfied one important requirement before they can be anointed as true Super Bowl contenders.

The Dallas Cowboys have yet to prove they are for real.

But how can that be possible? The Dallas Cowboys (9-3) have the second-best record in the NFL and a perfect 6-0 mark at AT&T Stadium.

The Dallas Cowboys have a star-studded roster led by one of the top NFL MVP contenders in quarterback Dak Prescott, one of the game’s best playmakers in wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate in linebacker Micah Parsons, and cornerback DaRon Bland, who’s electrified the league with an NFL-record five pick-sixes in a single season.

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The Dallas Cowboys also have few perceived weaknesses, with the fifth-ranked offense, the third-ranked defense, and the fourth-best turnover margin.

Isn’t that as “for real” as it gets? Not quite. Until now, the Dallas Cowboys’ status as a Super Bowl contender has been nothing more than a mirage, all style with little substance.

Dallas Cowboys
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Why aren’t the Dallas Cowboys for real? Look at who they’ve beaten

To be fair, the Dallas Cowboys aren’t entirely responsible for the perception of them as anything less than contenders.

For one, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has no control over the NFL schedule. All his Cowboys can do is play where they’re told and whom they’re matched against for 17 games and hope their on-the-field exploits will be enough to legitimize them.

Here’s the problem: The combined record of the nine teams that the Dallas Cowboys have beaten – and yes, that includes the New York Giants twice – is 36-73 (.330).

Putting it in more relevant terms, the average Cowboys’ victory through Week 13 comes against a team with a similar winning percentage to .330. And that would be 4-8 (.333). Guess who is 4-8? Yes, the New York Giants.

One school of thought is that the Dallas Cowboys played the way they should against the weaker teams – they beat up on them. Isn’t that what the great teams are supposed to do?

Yes, but if the Dallas Cowboys are as good as advertised, they should at least show it when given the chance against the NFL’s better teams. And that’s where they’ve achieved unsatisfactory results.

The Dallas Cowboys have zero victories over teams that currently have a winning record. And their only two single-digit victories came against the 6-6 Seattle Seahawks (41-35) and the 5-7 Los Angeles Chargers (20-17), two of the three “best” teams they’ve beaten, with the only other being the 6-6 Los Angeles Rams.

Granted, the Seahawks had a winning record before they met the Cowboys. Still, Seattle is currently the No. 9 seed in the NFC with only an outside shot at making the playoffs. Plus, the Cowboys trailed against Seattle until there was less than five minutes left in the game.

The Cowboys’ three losses – all on the road – came against the Arizona Cardinals (3-10), the Philadelphia Eagles (10-2) and the San Francisco 49ers (9-3). The latter two represent the only two winning teams on their schedule to date.

But with those two prime opportunities to show its mettle as a team that should be taken seriously, Big D came up small.

Against the 49ers, with extra motivation to pay back a team that eliminated them from the playoffs two straight years, the Dallas Cowboys instead got demoralized in an ugly 42-10 shellacking.

Against the Eagles, the longtime rival they are battling for NFC East supremacy, the Dallas Cowboys imploded in true Cowboys fashion with an untimely sack, two penalties and a fumble in the final 27 seconds to fall short in Philly, 28-23.

Dallas Cowboys
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Another opportunity awaits the Dallas Cowboys

Thankfully, for the Cowboys, they’ve been afforded a second chance. Redemption is available to them with a rematch against the Eagles on Sunday night.

The game is on their field, where they’ve beaten Philadelphia five straight times. They face the Eagles in a vulnerable state, after the 49ers humiliated them as well in Week 13. And they can unequivocally extract the Eagles from their tenuous hold on the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

How will the Dallas Cowboys handle another shot at validation? Will Dak Prescott and his teammates fold under pressure once again against an elite team, or can they finally change the narrative about them as bullies against inferior teams and victims against the NFL’s best?

To alter the perception, all the Dallas Cowboys need to do is alter the outcome. But it needs to happen before they reach the NFL playoffs, when only the good teams remain.

Beyond the Eagles, more viable opportunities await the Cowboys, with the Buffalo Bills (6-6), the Miami Dolphins (9-3), and the Detroit Lions (9-3) facing them in subsequent weeks.

But the reality tour begins Sunday. And if the Dallas Cowboys are for real, beating the Philadelphia Eagles is one surefire way to start proving it.