Cowboys heading into toughest stretch of 2023

FRISCO, Texas -- Now the fun begins for the Dallas Cowboys.

Well, it could be fun. Or it could be torturous.

Either way, the story of the Cowboys' 2023 season will be told over these next five weeks.

Starting Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys have five straight games against teams that are at least .500.

According to ESPN Analytics, the Cowboys had the third-easiest strength of schedule entering Week 12. Their eight wins have come against teams below .500. Two of their three losses have come against two of the best teams in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers (42-10) and the Philadelphia Eagles (28-23).

So how good are they?

Who can truly know for sure at the moment?

The Cowboys aren't just beating the teams they are supposed to beat. They have annihilated them. Seven of their eight wins have been by at least 20 points. The last team to win seven games by 20 or more points was the 2014 New England Patriots, who went on to win Super Bowl XLIX.

Those Patriots, however, had a track record of success with coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady (or Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, if you prefer). These Cowboys have not gotten past the divisional round of the playoffs, as the franchise's championship drought has reached 27 years.

But the opportunity to change the story is there.

"We've just got to continue what we've been doing these last few games and just build off that," quarterback Dak Prescott said after throwing four touchdown passes in a 45-10 win against the Washington Commanders on Thanksgiving. "As I've talked about, trying to make sure that we're getting and showing the best version of ourselves week in and week out. That's what it's about."

It helps the Cowboys that their next two games are at AT&T Stadium against the Seahawks and Eagles (Dec. 10). The Cowboys have won 13 straight regular-season games at home, their longest streak since the Cowboys won 18 in a row at Texas Stadium from 1979 to 1981. Their average margin of victory in their five home games is 29 points.

The Cowboys have won five in a row against the Eagles at AT&T Stadium and will have a 10-day break before their Philadelphia rematch.

"We've got to take care of business as we've done at home," Prescott said. "Protect this stadium and, yeah, just continue to build. Continue to build."

The Cowboys play consecutive road games in disparate locations in December: at Buffalo on Dec. 17 and at Miami on Christmas Eve. The Bills might not be as dominant as some expected at the start of the season, but winning in Orchard Park, New York, in potentially cold and snowy conditions probably will be difficult.

And the Dolphins are the AFC's version of the Cowboys. They, too, have not beaten a team with a winning record (and won't before they play the Cowboys) this season and have piled up yards, points and wins against poor teams.

The Cowboys then have a short week to get ready for the Lions, who might be a little wobbly after their showings in recent weeks.

"These games always get tougher at the end of the year," coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's November, December football. It always speaks for itself because things are starting to materialize. But, as we've talked in the past, I really don't worry about anything until you get 11 wins because it doesn't matter. I know you guys do a wonderful job writing articles and you don't need me to filibuster."

No, coach, that's why we have owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

After the Commanders win, Jones said the feeling was as good as any he has had with the Cowboys, including the three Super Bowl wins. Maybe Jones has simply forgotten what those Super Bowl wins are like since it has been so long.

Asked if Dallas can win a championship, Jones said, "Yes, it can."

"There's four or five others that can win it, too, that are sitting there ... some of them we've got to play and some of them we'll go by to get one," Jones said. "But this team is certainly capable of winning the whole thing."

The next five weeks will bring that thought into more focus, but Jones says his team is more than ready for this stretch.

Jones said his feelings "are better than I could have expected when we started this season. Dak's playing at a level that's exceeding my expectation. I was concerned about our offensive line. ... We're in a better shape in the offensive line than what I was worried about coming out of training camp. Defensively, when you see us get those turnovers in the plays like you've seen the last two games, we're just above my expectations here.

"And good news is, knock on wood, I think we've got players available to take it from here."