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Cowboys roundtable: How realistic are Dallas’ chances to surpass Eagles in NFC East race?

SportsDay’s Cowboys beat writers also discussed how a Tyron Smith return would impact the rest of the offensive line.

SportsDay beat writers David Moore, Calvin Watkins and Michael Gehlken discuss timely topics surrounding the team in this week’s Cowboys Beat Writers Roundtable:

The Cowboys (8-3) are running out of time to catch the Eagles (10-1) in the NFC East division race. How realistic is it for Dallas to surpass Philadelphia at this point?

David Moore: Check back Sunday evening. If Philadelphia loses to Tennessee and the Cowboys take care of business against Indianapolis, this scenario becomes much more realistic. But let’s not start there. We need to start at Christmas Eve. If the Cowboys have any chance of catching the Eagles to win the division, beating Philadelphia in the rematch is imperative. That would still leave the Cowboys one game back in the standings. That’s why a loss to the Titans — or a split in the Eagles’ two games against division foe New York Giants — is also needed. So, what does that mean? The Cowboys would have to win out while Philadelphia goes 4-2 the rest of the way to have a chance to win the NFC East. If Dallas losses another game along the way — not to Philadelphia but another team — the Eagles could go 3-3 and still hold the Cowboys at bay depending on which games were lost.

Calvin Watkins: Dallas needs help from someone — anyone, really — to make winning the NFC East realistic. It’s very difficult for the Cowboys to overcome the deficit despite a favorable schedule. The hardest part for the Cowboys’ is watching the Eagles take on the Giants twice in the last six weeks of the regular season, knowing that’s two probable victories. A three-game road trip in December for the Eagles is the toughest stretch of their season, and if they can’t get through that, then, yes, Dallas has a shot.

Michael Gehlken: There is a 21% chance the Cowboys will catch up with the Eagles. At least, that is according to the New York Times playoff simulator. The figure sounds about right considering Philadelphia will need to lose at least twice in the final six weeks, most importantly on Christmas Eve here in Arlington, to open the door for Dallas to repeat as NFC East champion. I might actually boost the Cowboys’ chances to 25%. Their offense is becoming more efficient on early downs, third down and in the red zone behind a cohesive offensive line, rotating run game and improved chemistry between Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb. They have also really found something with this four-deep tight end mixture. The arrow is pointing up for the offense, which is not factored into the NY Times’ permutation model.

Jerry Jones stressed Tuesday a potential Odell Beckham Jr. signing is about this season more than the future. If Beckham signs with Dallas next week, how many games might he play before the postseason? Is that worth it?

David Moore: If Beckham signs next week, would he be ready to play against the Eagles on Christmas Eve? That seems to be rushing it. The best-case scenario appears to be he would have some limited opportunities in the Cowboys’ final two games of the regular season with an eye toward a more consistent role once the playoffs are underway. Is it worth it? Sure. Dallas wants Beckham for the threat he poses, for the chance he can come up big in a big game the way he did for the LA Rams in the NFC Championship game last season. If Beckham can make a play or two to help the Cowboys tip one playoff game their way, he’d be worth the investment.

Calvin Watkins: If he plays the final two games of the season and just one playoff game, that’s hard to accept. In reality, if Dallas is going down this path with OBJ, he needs a two-year contract and at least a full season with Kellen Moore’s offense to prove he was worth it. But if Beckham plays, say just three games including playoffs, it wasn’t worth it. Not at all. But if the Cowboys reach the NFC Championship game or the Super Bowl with Beckham, then sure, it’s worth it.

Michael Gehlken: The Cowboys would need Beckham to do little this regular season beyond gain enough confidence in his twice-surgically-repaired left knee and build enough chemistry with Dak Prescott to become a trusted fixture of their passing game come mid-January. That is what this is about. January. Chances to compete for Super Bowls are rare. When the Cowboys look around the NFC today, they have every reason to smell blood in the water and believe this is a quality chance. Beckham could compete in only four regular-season games if signed early next week, and that would be entirely OK because of the need a healthy and able Beckham fills. Now, making sure Beckham is healthy and able is the caveat. How his physical goes during next week’s scheduled visit is pivotal.

When Tyron Smith is healthy, the Cowboys have indicated he will return at left tackle. How does that impact the rest of the offensive line?

David Moore: Only a player as dominant as Tyron Smith could come back after missing all of this time and slide back into an offensive line that’s been playing well. Smith’s return will nudge Tyler Smith to left guard — remember, this was the lineup the coaching staff envisioned to start the season — and bump Connor McGovern out of the starting lineup. The rookie Smith has impressed the coaching staff and teammates with his physical, aggressive style. The thought of him and one of the best, most physical left tackles of his generation side-by-side intrigues the coaching staff and would be considered an upgrade heading into the postseason. Still, continuity means something in the offensive line, and it would be good for the Cowboys to have two or three regular-season games with the Smith/Smith combo on the left side to be confident going into the playoffs.

Calvin Watkins: You move Tyler Smith to guard, a position he was projected to start at anyway, and it also means you’ll have the best five offensive linemen on the field for the final few weeks of the season. Why wouldn’t you want that for your team? Adding Tyron Smith at left tackle is a positive because he’s one of the best left tackles in the league when healthy.

Michael Gehlken: Moving pieces exist here. We know the makeup of the Cowboys’ offensive line today, but much can change by the time Tyron Smith is cleared to practice, and much can change again between then and when he is actually activated to the 53-man roster. Once Smith resumes practice, likely sometime in December, he figures to observe at least a couple weeks of his 21-day practice window before playing in a game. What we can expect today is for rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith to slide from left tackle to left guard to make room for Tyler Smith, relegating Connor McGovern to a non-starter role. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore likely would keep McGovern busy, be it reprising his role as a situational fullback or sixth offensive lineman. Such depth that Tyron Smith’s return affords is the best-case scenario for this Cowboys offense. The team hopes it gets there. He is considered on track in his rehabilitation.

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