Are the Cowboys better than their record?

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David Rothenberg, filling in this morning for Mike Lupica on ESPN radio became the latest in a very long line of commentators to criticize the Dallas Cowboys for clearly under-performing relative to their presumptive talent level. The ‘Boys, Rothenberg insisted, are obviously better than their record, but due to various intangible factors, like the inability to make the big play and team chemistry issues (including the Dez Bryant blowup last Sunday), are stuck at .500 this season (though 4-4 is good enough for first place in the suddenly wretched NFC East).

In general, I am all for the proposition that a team’s record in a single season does not always necessarily reflect its underlying level of ability. Injuries and general randomness can produce significant fluctuations in performance and cause team outcomes to diverge from expectations.

But in the case of the Cowboys, this is getting a little ridiculous. Since the start of the 2010 season, the *always* over-hyped Cowboys have played 56 regular season games, exactly three and a half NFL seasons. And what is their record during that span? 26-30. Yes, they have some high profile players, including a prolific pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware, a statistically productive QB in Romo and an elite receiver in the mercurial Bryant. But seriously, how talented could they be if they are 26-30 over three and a half years?

Have they been unlucky in those seasons? Not notably. In 2010, they finished 6-10. That year, they scored 394 points and gave up 436. According to NFL-reference.com, that’s consistent with a 7-9 record. In 2011 and 2012, they finished 8-8 each season. In 2011, they outscored opponents by 22 points. Last year, they were outscored by 24. This year, so far, they’ve outscored opponents by 44 points.

If you add that all up, over the past 56 games dating back to the start of the 2010 season, the Dallas Cowboys have scored the exact same number of points they’ve given up. You know what else is remarkable? So far this year, the Cowboys have a +9 turnover ratio. Most statistically minded NFL analysts will tell you there is a lot of randomness in team turnover margin from year to year. I mention this because turnover ratio might be considered a clue to whether the Cowboys, at least in some statistical sense, are getting lucky or unlucky – under-performing or over-performing relative to a baseline talent level. That plus-9 turnover margin this year means that, since the start of the 2010 season the Cowboys have now – you guessed it – had the exact same number of giveaways as takeaways.

To recap: the Cowboys have won 26 games and lost 30 since 2010. Their scoring margin is exactly zero during that time. So is their turnover margin. The evidence, in other words, strongly suggests that the Cowboys are exactly what their record so far this year indicates – a perfectly mediocre football team. A few star players, a big fancy stadium and an attention-seeking owner notwithstanding.

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One comment

  1. I agree with all of that. (Since I live in Dallas, I became aware of the Cowboys’ mediocrity a long time ago.) So, here’s the question, if a team is as good as its record says it is, wouldn’t that make the Chiefs the best team in the NFL? Yet, why are they not even picked to make the Superbowl? They’re not even #1 in Power Rankings. I know they don’t have Peyton Manning and I’m not saying Alex Smith is as good as Manning, but the Chiefs are doing better without Manning than the Broncos are doing with him. If the Broncos were 9-0, ESPN would be asking if they were one of the greatest teams in NFL history. If the Patriots were 9-0, that’s all they would talk about all day long. But the Chiefs, in Kansas City, with a guy named Alex Smith as their QB – they don’t have what it takes to win.

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