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History Lesson: Cowboys' Hot Start Guarantees Playoff Berth

Dallas has never missed the postseason after starting 5-1

Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio analyzed Dak Prescott's calf injury this week with a startling claim:

"It's a given the Dallas Cowboys are in the playoffs," he said. "If Dak has to miss a game in October to be healthy for much bigger games in January, so be it."

Given that the Cowboys have made the postseason only 10 times in 25 seasons (40 percent) since winning their last Super Bowl in 1995, that's a pretty bold declaration. But Florio - and the assembling throng already penciling Dallas in for playoff games once the calendar flips to 2022 - has two significant trends on his side:

Halloween and history.

First, it's still mid-October and they already have an embarrassing three-game lead in the NFC East.

Rarely do NFL teams wrap up divisions before donning Halloween costumes - no other division leader's edge is more than two. But the Eagles, Giants and Washington Football Team have shown no signs of being competitive. While the Cowboys are 5-1, the rest of the East is 5-13 with only one win over a team with a winning record (Giants over Saints).

In all likelihood, the Cowboys could go 5-6 in their final 11, finish 10-7 and coast to their first division title since 2018. And oh, by the way, Prescott is 12-1 in his last 13 starts against the NFC East and there are still four more division dates on the schedule.

Then there's history: The Cowboys have never started a season 5-1 and missed the playoffs. Never.

Their previous 14 5-1 starts led to 10 division titles, four Wild Card berths, three Super Bowl appearances and two championships. Only four times have they started 6-0.

Last time they started 5-1 was Prescott's rookie season in 2016 when they lost their opener before reeling off 11 consecutive wins and finishing 13-3 before losing a heartbreaker to the Packers in their first playoff game.

A look at how Dallas finished after starting 5-1:


1967    9-5    Lost NFL Championship Game

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1975   10-4   Lost Super Bowl X

1976   11-3    Lost Divisional Round

1979   11-5    Lost Divisional Round

1980   12-4   Lost NFC Championship Game

1982    6-3    Lost NFC Championship Game (strike-shortened season)

1985   10-6   Lost Divisional Round

1992   13-3   Won Super Bowl XXVII

1994   12-4   Lost NFC Championship Game

1995   12-4   Won Super Bowl XXX

2003   10-6   Lost Wild Card Game

2007   13-3   Lost Divisional Round

2014   12-4   Lost Divisional Round

2016   13-3   Lost Divisional Round