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'We control our own destiny': McCarthy, Cowboys still in hunt for top NFC seed

It’s about to turn December in Big D, and the 8-3 Cowboys are in second place in the NFC East, a full two games behind the Eagles. The team is currently fifth in the playoff seedings and would play Tampa Bay if the postseason were to start today.

Of course, there’s the proverbial “lot of football left to be played.” As they enter the home stretch of the regular season, the Cowboys are in a good position but already tossing around another word that starts with the fourth letter of the alphabet.

“The nice part about where we are is, you know, we control our own destiny,” head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in his press conference Thursday following the 28-20 Thanksgiving Day win over the Giants.

It may seem a strangely optimistic place to be, considering the Chicken Little vibe around Cowboys Nation after a dreadful season opener in which Dallas lost to the Buccaneers but also lost quarterback Dak Prescott to a fractured thumb.

Cooper Rush did his best Sandra Bullock impression, driving the bus more than adequately during Prescott’s five-game absence.

But now, after going 2-1 during a tough 12-day late-November span, the Cowboys know they’ll have to do it again- and do it even better- to close out December if they hope to steal the divisional crown away from Philadelphia.

Following Week 13 and 14 meetings with Indianapolis and Houston, the Cowboys will face a resurgent Jacksonville squad on Dec. 18, play the second installment of the two-game set with Philadelphia six days later, and then visit Tennessee five days after that.

Not to count any chickens before they hatch, but let’s assume that the rested-up (and post-cold-and-flu) Cowboys take care of business against the Colts, Texans, and Jaguars, just for the sake of argument.

That would give Dallas eleven wins, a magic number of sorts for McCarthy.

“I really don’t count numbers,” McCarthy told media members last week. “You guys laughed when I first said it, but until you get to 11 wins, it’s [just] great reading for the paper.”

Before the league moved to a 17-game season, that number used to be ten wins, a traditional mile marker of success McCarthy reached in eight of his 12 full seasons in Green Bay (and not coincidentally, reached the postseason each time).

So while 11 wins would be great, let’s carry the hypotheticals a bit further. Let’s say either the Titans or Giants knock off the Eagles over the next two Sundays, certainly not out of the realm of possibility. (Figure the Bears won’t pose a real threat in Week 15.)

That would make the Christmas Eve showdown at AT&T Stadium a game of massive consequence, with the 11-3 Cowboys looking to gift Philly with their third loss of the season.

Should both Dallas and Philadelphia then go on to end 2022 with identical 14-3 marks, the Cowboys would hold the tiebreaker for the divisional crown. That’s because while they would have split the season head-to-head series, Philadelphia’s previous loss to Washington would give them a worse divisional record than Dallas.

In other words, consider every contest from here on out a must-win if the Cowboys want to claim the East and have any hope of a first-round bye. (They’d still need help in the form of somebody giving the Vikings another L in order to get the top NFC seed; Dallas owns that head-to-head tiebreaker, too, by virtue of their Week 11 rout in Minnesota.)

Yes, December means it’s destiny time in Big D.

And this team’s fate could ultimately be determined by, fittingly, the Cowboys’ D.

“I know what this team is capable of, especially with this defense that we have. We’ve just got to continue to keep our heads down and take it one day at a time, one game at a time,” Prescott said. “We control everything we have right in front of us.”

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