FRISCO, Texas -- The 2023 Dallas Cowboys are looking similar to the Penn State Nittany Lions of the last two seasons through the first 12 weeks of the current NFL season. In 2022 and 2023, Penn State completed 10-2 regular seasons, beating every less talented Big Ten team it faced. However, in each of those years, PSU couldn't get past its conference's summit of Ohio State and Michigan, losing both of its matchups to those two College Football Playoff contenders.
This NFL season, the Cowboys' 8-3 start has been built on taking care of the teams they are supposed to -- teams with losing records -- while currently lacking a victory against a team with a winning record. They lost on the final play of a 28-23 defeat at the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9 and in a 42-10 blowout loss at the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5. Those two teams are the NFC Championship game participants from the 2022 season and the only teams the Cowboys have played in 2023 with a winning record.
This unique distinction makes Dallas only the fifth team in NFL history with eight or more wins overall and no wins against teams with a record of .500 or better through Week 12. They had the second-easiest strength of schedule, a .384 opponent winning percentage, through Week 12 by any team in the past 10 seasons.
"In this league, it's hard to get wins, so, we got eight of them," Dallas Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said Monday. "I take our eight wins, we haven't beat a team with a winning record, but I know the type of team that we are. We got this stretch coming up and we can change that narrative. That's all we can look forward to doing is changing the narrative, you can say whatever you want to say. We have the ability to go out there and change it."
The Cowboys decimated the Washington Commanders, 45-10, in Week 12 to extend the NFL's longest active home winning streak to 13, which is also the second longest in franchise history, and Dallas has won its five home games this season by a combined score of 205-60. That makes the Cowboys the first team in NFL history to each of its first five home games by 20 or more points.
Their three consecutive wins since losing 28-23 at the now-10-1 Eagles in Week 9 against the now 4-8 New York Giants in Week 10 (49-17), at the now 1-10 Carolina Panthers (33-10) in Week 11 and against the now 4-8 Washington Commanders in Week 12 mark the Cowboys' first stretch in team history to win three in a row by at least 23 points. Nobody beats up on teams with losing records like Dallas does.
Its +162 point-differential, 34 points per game and +11 turnover differential against teams with losing records all lead the NFL in such matchups, and those figures contribute greatly in Dallas' leading the NFL overall in point-differential (+162) and scoring offense (31.6). Only the 2007, 16-0 New England Patriots have had more 20-point wins in their first 11 games of season (eight) than the 2023 Cowboys (seven).
Cowboys vs. teams with and without a winning record this season
|VS. TEAMS WITHOUT WINNING RECORD
|VS. TEAMS WITH WINNING RECORD*
Total YPG Allowed
Time of Possession
- * At 49ers in Week 5 (42-10 loss), at Eagles in Week 9 (28-23 loss)
- **Best in NFL
Dallas couldn't control its strength of schedule to start the season, but now will likely face five teams in a row that have a winning record: Week 13 vs. the Seattle Seahawks (6-5), Week 14 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles (10-1), Week 15 at the Buffalo Bills (6-6), Week 16 at the Miami Dolphins (8-3) and Week 17 vs. the Detroit Lions (8-3). The Cowboys finish the season at the Commanders, giving them a .618 opponent win percentage, which is good for the fifth-hardest strength of schedule in the NFL from this point to the end of the regular season.
"The narrative is not something that motivates," Kearse said. "I got kids at home to feed as well. There are a lot of other guys in this locker room. We have goals that we want to achieve and winning these games is part of achieving that goal. So, that's what motivates me. I couldn't care less that anyone says we haven't beat a team with a winning record or whatever. A lot of teams beat teams with winning records last year, and they didn't win the Super Bowl. Beating teams with a winning record and then not doing it in the postseason, then it doesn't mean anything. I'm just more worried about just stacking success and building on what we need to build on."
Despite not yet having a win against a team with a winning record, quarterback Dak Prescott doesn't paint the team's soft opening portion of their 2023 slate as easy, saying opposing players have personally told him that they play the Cowboys with a higher intensity because of
"Yeah, the NFL is tough in general," Prescott said Monday. "A lot of things play into records a lot of times. Understanding yeah, the team's we've played haven't ... the records haven't been great. I can promise everybody that comes in and that we play, we do get their best shot.
Prescott says being the Cowboys makes a difference in their opponents' effort.
"Not to say not everyone else does that, but when you play the Dallas Cowboys, I can promise you the other teams, it's a little bit bigger than some of the games that they play, that comes from people around the league," Prescott said. "They always talk about it. Free agents that come in, they mention it, so we're getting people's best shots.
"As we move forward with teams with better records, we're going to get their best shots, so it's important for us to continue to grow and build on what we've done and understand that yeah, we've won some games," Prescott said. "We've won some games in a tough league, but at the end of the day it's about the next game, and right now a good Seattle team is coming in."
Thursday night against the Seahawks specifically provides Prescott with an opportunity to begin to write a new story against teams with winning records.
"I understand they've dropped a couple here recently [lost two in a row after starting 6-3], but this is a good team, and they probably need this win more than a lot of teams in the league right now, just with how the playoffs and everything are starting to set up as you get football going after Thanksgiving. [We're] Not taking anybody lightly. Just understanding this is about us and this group."
In his first seven NFL seasons, 2016-2022, Prescott's Cowboys went 9-24 against teams that finished with 10 or more wins in the regular season and 54-16 against teams with under 10 wins. That gap is historic, ranking as the third-worst decline in win percentage against 10-win teams compared to teams with nine or fewer wins since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger among 98 quarterbacks with 30 or more starts against 10-win teams. Only Kirk Cousins (-.564) and Matthew Stafford (-.569) have had steeper disparities than Prescott. This metric does not include games from 2023 yet, but as of now Prescott already has one loss against a 10-win team in 2023, thanks to the Week 9 defeat at the Eagles.
Dak Prescott career by opponent final win total
|vs. teams to finish with 0-9 wins
|vs. teams to finish with 10+ wins
* Third-largest dropoff (-.498) by any QB since 1970 AFL/NFL merger (min. 30 starts)
Should Prescott continue his 2023 high-level play through the Cowboys' upcoming gauntlet of a schedule and beat at least three of the next five teams, he could win his first NFL MVP award. He ranks near the top of almost every key quarterback metric for the NFL's highest-scoring offense through 11 games.
Dak Prescott stats in 2023 season
|NFL QB RANK
|Expected Points Added/Play
Now, it's time to prove those numbers translate when faced with a higher degree of difficulty.