If Brandon Weeden raises game, Cowboys could breathe easier

The Dallas Cowboys went from playing without No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant to watching Jason Witten limp off the field (he later returned) to absorbing harsh news on quarterback Tony Romo, the player they could least afford to lose. With Romo's broken left clavicle requiring weeks to heal, we could reasonably declare the Cowboys finished, but that wouldn't be any fun -- and it might not be correct.

The Cowboys are 2-0. Both victories were in the NFC East. The rest of the division has a combined 1-5 record. This is a situation the Cowboys can manage if they can meet three criteria: backup Brandon Weeden is not horrible, the defense keeps making the kind of strides it has been making recently, and Romo returns for the finishing stretch. How much of a drop-off at quarterback can Dallas withstand while remaining in the playoff hunt? That's the question of the hour, and it's one we can answer using established methods. And if it's any consolation for Cowboys fans, ESPN's new Football Power Index (FPI) still has them as favorites to win the NFC East, even if Romo doesn't return until late in the season.

Projecting wins by QB

Let's assume Weeden starts the next 10 games while Romo recovers. Let's assume Romo would have played about as well in those 10 games as he played last season. And let's assume Weeden will play about as well as he played in his 21 NFL starts. That last assumption is the one that could be a problem for Dallas, because unless Weeden does better than he has in the past, the metrics say Dallas would win about three of its presumed 10 games without Romo, down from the seven of 10 they were predicted to win if had he stayed in the lineup (the exact figures were 3.2 victories with Weeden and 7.4 with Romo).