There did not seem (at least in circles I discuss the Cowboys in) to be a whole lot of optimism about 2011, particularly for a fan base that always manages a great level of confidence. The idea of mediocrity by and large seemed almost to be wishful thinking, let alone maybe something crazy like. . . contending for the division?
Yet, thanks to the Saints blowing out the Giants 49-24 on Monday Night Football, the Cowboys are not just leading the division, they are all by themselves in first place at the end of Week 12. New York got absolutely no pressure on Drew Brees, and, as you'd expect, that resulted in an aerial bombardment of apocalyptic proportions: 24/38, 363, 4. The Giants' front seven seemed non-existant, and the Saints' 577 total yards was the second most ever amassed against the franchise.
Between this and the Dream Team, the NFC East is really helping Cowboys fans out.
It gets better.
The Giants schedule is no easier next week, as they have to play the undefeated Packers on long rest before traveling to Dallas for a potentially massive game. If they continue to go belly up in those, they will most likely need a win against the Jets just to make the Week 17 match-up against the Cowboys in New York even matter (in their best-case scenario). The Cowboys non-Giants games include the Eagles, but also the Bucs and Cardinals. Don't be taking anyone for granted yet, but Dallas is already in the drivers' seat, and with a schedule that puts the Giants under extraordinary pressure to get at least a split.
Oh, and Brian Burke's excellent approach to team rankings has the Cowboys as the third best team in football (though, before barely squeaking by the Dolphins at home).
This is not the way this season was supposed to go. Waking up on the Tuesday of Week 13 with the Cowboys in tremendous position to take the NFC East wasn't to be expected, and it feels weird even now seeing it as a reality. Of course, Dallas is suddenly a blessed sports town, and maybe the Cowboys are just carrying that on. They might not be world-beaters (unless you trust Advanced NFL Stats completely), but if you never expected them to be, is merely being a good team and the odds-on-favorite to win the division so bad?