Will Cowboys Finish 8-8 (12/3/14)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
A December to remember, can the Dallas Cowboys avoid another 8-8 season?

The Dallas Cowboys have been the model for mediocrity, finishing with an 8-8 record the last three seasons. One of the biggest problems for "America's Team" is that the end of the regular season has not been kind.

In the last twenty years, with six different coaches, the Cowboys have had just four winning records over the months of December and January.

This is the third year that Jason Garrett will lead the Cowboys into December with a winning record. In 2011 the team was 7-4; in 2013, Dallas was 7-5; and this year, the Cowboys are 8-4.

At the midway point in the season, Dallas was 6-2, leading the NFC East and was 70% likely to make the playoffs and shake the dreaded 8-8 finish.

With three losses in the team's last five games, you wouldn't blame Cowboys' fans for being nervous, especially with a quarterback in Tony Romo that has a 13-18 record in December and January.

Dallas has four games remaining, three on the road and is projected to be an underdog in two contests (at Philadelphia and vs. Indianapolis).

What are the chances that the Cowboys finish with a fourth consecutive 8-8 season?

Opponent Proj. Score (Dallas First) Dallas Proj. Win %
At Bears 30.0 - 27.0 57.6
At Eagles 28.4 - 32.4 41.3
Vs. Colts 31.1 - 33.1 45.8
At Redskins 29.2 - 26.4 56.3

After 50,000 simulations, Dallas has a 3.5 percent chance of losing all of its final four games.

The Cowboys could finish 8-8 the hard way (starting 6-2 and finishing 2-6), but it is unlikely.

Ray Rice Reinstated

Ray Rice won his appeal and has been reinstated to the NFL. Rice is eligible to sign with any NFL team.

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, who sites multiple sources, at least four teams have expressed interest in acquiring the former Baltimore Ravens running back.

Should a team sign Rice?

Before his suspension, Rice had been ineffective. Last season, he averaged 3.1 yards per carry, the lowest mark among any running back with at least 160 rushes in 2013. He is a 27 year old running back that has already had 2,038 touches in 104 career games, which is an average of 19.6 touches-per-game over a six year career after he had 948 touches in just three seasons in college. While we would not project exactly 3.1 yards-per-carry from Rice if he were to be reinstated, the regression from his previous efficiency is to be expected given essentially 3,000 touches in meaningful game play over the last nine years. Furthermore, with the same guards and two of the same tackles from 2013 playing for Baltimore on the offensive line this year, Justin Forsett has averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry, the best mark among any qualified running back. The Ravens have gone from having the least efficient to the most efficient rusher by losing Ray Rice for the season.

We ran the numbers, and after 50,000 simulations, and every team in the NFL would only hurt its efficiency by signing Rice and giving him the touches of a feature back over their current feature back (the lone exception to this could come in Arizona if Andre Ellington is out for the foreseeable future - Ray Rice would be beneficial to the Cardinals' output, but not markedly so).