Dallas is 8-3, one gane ahead of Washington and Philadelphia in the NFC East, with an NFL record bettered only by Pittsburgh. The Cowboys have the world's most glamorous cheerleaders, the league's best publicists, football's most dangerous breakaway runner, the conference's only Triple-A quarterback and an excellent corps of receivers.
And they are in trouble.
Not desperate trouble, mind you, but trouble nonetheless, in that by late Thanksgiving Day, they might well be out of their customary first place in the division standings. Or at least tied, which, in discussing Dallas, is still blasphemous.
The Cowboys play the Redskins here Sunday and Houston Thursday at home. That means three games in 11 days. Tough turkey.
As mentioned here more than a month ago, Tampa Bay figures to wind up with the best record in the National Conference this season. The schedule-makers have seen to it. Dallas, accordingly, might well lose the home field advantage for the playoffs. Which means the Cowboys are going to have to work harder than they usually do in order to get to the Super Bowl.
What's wrong with Dallas? Well, the defense has sorely missed Ed (Too Tall) Jones from the day he took up professonal boxing. The injury to Charlie Waters further exposed a secondary that had always had its shortcomings against the pass shielded by the Jones-Harvey Martin-Randy White rush.
The trade for John Dutton was a concession, on the Cowboys' part, that Jones was more important than they originally cared to admit. But Dutton is not yet ready to make a real contribution to the Dallas defense. He had been away too long.
The Cowboy offense took up the slack, through the first half of this season. Staubach was brilliant, Dorsett exciting, the receivers proficient and -- most important of all -- the offensive line solid.
But the offense ran into a Steel Curtain in Pittsburgh three weeks ago, 14-39 Pittsburgh didn't just beatDallas, they whipped them, just as they had in the last Super Bowl, when the 35-31 score didn't indicate the Steelers' true superiority.
Preston Pearson was injured in the Pittsburgh game. Staubach missed him. He was the quarterback's favorite target on the third and crucial.
Other weaknesses have begun to appear since Pittsburgh. They were a little lucky to escape with a victory in New York, after trailing the Giants 14-6 late in the game. And Monday, in losing at home to the Eagles, 31-21, Dallas "gave" Philadelphia its first seven points, keeping the visitors' drive alive with two mindless penalties. It was most un-Dallas-like.
So Dallas is dead, right? Don't you believe it. The Cowboys will be back before the season is over. Tom Landry and Staubach will see to that. But Washington, getting 5 points, is an irresistible pick Sunday, worth a mythical $500. I believe the Redskins can win the game. And, should Houston knock Dallas down to 8-5 next Thursday, life would become downright thrilling in the NFC East.
Other selections this week, attracting $250 each, are Philadelphia giving 3 1/2 against St. Louis, Pittsburgh giving 4 at San Diego, Oakland giving 10 1/2 against Kansas City and Los Angeles giving 7 against Atlanta.
The Eagle victory over Dallas had to remove any self-doubts that club might have harbored. Pittsburgh, when healthy, is all by itself in terms of team balance. Kansas City's runners have been chewed up by their running game, and Vince Ferragamo finally gets his chance to show L.A. he can retire Pat Haden.
In other games, Las Vegas lists New England 11 over Baltimore, Chicago 3 1/2 over the New York Jets, Buffalo 6 over Green Bay, Miami 1 1/2 at Cleveland, Minnesota 4 1/2 over Detroit, Seattle 3 over New Orleans, Tampa Bay 3 1/2 over the New York Giants, Houston 7 over Cincinnati and Denver 7 at San Francisco.