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History Says Cowboys Face Must-Win Sunday in L.A.

Even with 2021's expanded schedule, starting 0-2 could be fatal

Unless the Dallas Cowboys plan to resurrect Emmitt Smith, trade for Tom Brady or somehow conjure David Tyree's impossibly sticky helmet, they'd better beat the Chargers in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon.

Yes, even in Week 2 in mid-September, it's a "must-win" game.

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Because, unless aided by those legendary players or that improbable catch, NFL teams starting the season 0-2 are doomed to miss the playoffs, much less win a Super Bowl.

The Cowboys march into L.A. without receiver Michael Gallup and right tackle La'el Collins, and with underwhelming tackle Terence Steele assigned the duty of slowing down Chargers' Pro Bowl pass-rusher Joey Bosa. But history suggests that leaving southern California 0-2 would be an even more daunting proposition.

In their previous 61 seasons, the Cowboys have started 0-2 seven times. In six of those seasons they went on to miss the playoffs, never winning more than six games. The all-time outlier, of course, was 1993, when Smith missed the first two games in a contract dispute before returning in Week 3 and ultimately leading Dallas to its second consecutive Super Bowl victory.

Sans Smith, the Cowboys' 0-2 history is predictably pathetic:

1960  0-11-1

1963  4-10

1989  1-15

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*1993  12-4

2000  5-11

2001  5-11

2010  6-10

Across the NFL, the odds are equally grim for 0-2 teams.

Since the league adopted the 12-team playoff format in 1990, 90 percent of teams that start 0-2 miss the playoffs. Even in 2020 - with an expanded format to 14 teams - no 0-2 team made the postseason, with only one (Miami Dolphins) of the 11 winless starters rebounding to finish with a winning record.

There are rational reasons why Sunday in L.A. isn't an immediate elimination game for Dallas.

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This year there are 17 regular-season games; an added week to right the ship. The Cowboys' first two games are on the road, meaning they'll still have eight home dates including three consecutive at AT&T Stadium starting Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles. And, for the glass half-full crowd, there's always historical hope.

Along with Smith's 1993 Cowboys, Brady's 2001 New England Patriots and Tyree's 2007 New York Giants lifted the Lombardi Trophy in February after stumbling out of the gate in September.