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by Mike Fisher    Tue, Dec 27, 2005, 11:12 PM

Fast-forward yourself ahead. The champagne bottle is empty. The Doritos are gone. And to ring in the New Year, just before bedtime your Cowboys just finished up crushing the visiting Rams. And Dallas is 10-6!

But. ...

Earlier in the day, Carolina beat Atlanta. Or Washington beat Philly. Rendering the 10-6 Cowboys a non-playoff team.

Are you, Dear Cowboys fan, kind of satisfied with your season?

The oddsmakers predict the above scenario is exactly what will unfold this weekend. Three at-the-moment highly functional teams, contenders all, are playing three wobbly losers.

Carolina still believes it is the best team in the conference, and can continue attempting to prove it if they simply go to Atlanta and survive a disappointing Falcons club that is rumored to be coming apart at the seams, from the team president and coach on down. Jim Mora is more accurate throwing radio equipment than Michael Vick is throwing the football.

And the Panthers are favored.

Washington believes it is the best team in the conference, having just slapped around a pair of NFC East foes in back-to-back games by lopsided scores. And now comes yet another NFC East'er, the grounded Eagles, who are at home but will be without every single Philly headliner on offense. ... unless you like the McMahon-to-McMullen combination, which sounds like a heckuva way to score a header in Ireland but a lousy way to beat the scary Redskins.

And the Redskins are favored.

At Texas Stadium, all Dallas has to do is survive visiting St. Louis, an organization in such disarray that Rams people threaten to murder one another. Not only cannot they not figure out who their quarterback will be on a week-to-week basis, no one is quite sure who their head coach is.

And the Cowboys are favored. ... by 13!

Of course, beating the Rams is NOT ALL the Cowboys need to do. They also need help from the Eagles or the Falcons. (There are alternative complications. ... but let's keep things simple here.)

So fast-forward again, and while you sift through scouting reports and significant quotes and historical trends and tea leaves and then figure out where is your lucky spot on the sofa, ask yourself if 10-6 -- even without the playoffs -- qualifies as "satisfying.''

Parcells says no. So do his players, told by him on Monday, "If someone says to you (during training camp) that in Week 17, 'you've got a chance to do something,' would you take it?' It would have been a unanimous vote. We're in Week 17 and we've got a chance to do something.''

And maybe that -- the chance -- is an accomplishment.

After all, the Cowboys were 6-10 last year. They have a blue-chip quarterback who is admired by teammates, a hanful of dynamic young weapons on offense, the youthful foundation of a championship defense, the best owner in football and a Hall-of-Fame coach (who, once he catches his breath and gets the dough he wants, ought to be hanging around for a bit.)

My prediction going into the year was 8-8. What was yours?

My hope going into the year was "meaningful games in December.'' What was yours?

I understand both the argument for "disappointment'' (Parcells' word) and satisfaction. Hey, if you never thought Halle Berry would ever look twice at you, and then you found out too late than she actually wanted to sleep with you, what you you feel?

Satisfaction? After all, Halle Berry used to DIG you!

Or disappointment? After all, Halle Berry has since changed her mind!

You can let the metronome of this season make the determination for you: There is, after all, something a bit unsettling about a team that begins the season by registering a win, then a loss, then a win, then a loss, then a win, and is now in a string of loss-win-loss-win. ... and this Sunday.

You can let the high expectations of the oft-spoiled Cowboys Nation make the determination for you: After all, the Cowboys are simply SUPPOSED to be in the playoffs every year, right? No matter that Seattle and Washington and Washington again rightfully took it away from them. ... well, it still just ain't right!

Or, ultimately, you can decide: No more champagne. No more Doritos. Sunday night, hoist yourself off the sofa because it's time for bed: Is 10-6 "pretty good'' no matter what? Or is "nothing short of the playoffs'' the only way to take satisfaction from the 2005 Cowboys?


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