But no one could have foreseen just how they would get to Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs.
The Cowboys did so Sunday by beating the Philadelphia Eagles 37-17 with an offensive display reminiscent of the first few weeks of the season before quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending right ankle injury.
Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for 377 yards and had touchdown passes of 21 and 7 yards to Michael Gallup and 52 yards to CeeDee Lamb as the Cowboys took advantage of a poor Eagles secondary and a pass rush that was missing defensive tackle Fletcher Cox for most of the game.
As for winning the division, the Cowboys (6-9) still need help and it needs to come from the team they just beat. In Week 17, Philadelphia needs to beat the Washington Football Team and the Cowboys need to beat the New York Giants.
Since the Cowboys were swept by Washington, they lose a tiebreaker, requiring the Eagles to do them another favor.
The Eagles' first favor was employing a defense that could not match Gallup, who finished with 121 yards on six catches, and Amari Cooper, who had four catches for 121 yards. Cooper established a career high in receptions and went over 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his six seasons. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott even came through with 105 yards on 19 carries, including a season-long 31 yarder to salt the game away.
A Cowboys defense that was gashed on the first two drives -- 75 yards on the first drive that ended in a 4-yard touchdown run, and an 81-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson -- allowed three points the rest of the game. The Cowboys even managed two more takeaways with an Anthony Brown interception in the end zone and a Jaylon Smith fumble recovery inside the Dallas 15.
Having won three straight games for the first time since the first three weeks of last season, are the Cowboys becoming a team opponents would not want to face in the postseason? Well, that might be getting a bit too carried away, but they have closed fast.
Will Washington give them a chance at a finishing kick?
Quarterback breakdown: Dalton has found a rhythm in the Cowboys' offense. His 377 yards passing was the fifth most he has had in a game in his pro career. He had the 26th three-touchdown pass game of his career and second with the Cowboys. His lone mistake in the passing game was forcing a throw down the seam to Lamb that Darius Slay intercepted in the third quarter. Dalton entered the game averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. In the first half, he averaged 11.2 yards per attempt. Dalton showed he can still make plays if the Cowboys protect well.
Pivotal play: Gallup had a 55-yard catch in the second quarter, but that drive ended in a field goal. He had a 7-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that gave the Cowboys their first lead. But the biggest catch he made was his first touchdown. Trailing 14-3, and with a defense that did not look like it could stop the Eagles on the ground or through the air, Gallup took matters into his own hands. Dalton found Gallup on a slant on second-and-3 and the receiver broke at least two tackles before getting into the end zone. That play allowed the Cowboys to breathe a little bit on offense and, maybe more importantly, on defense.