They were one of the popular picks for the Super Bowl, the Super Bowl they'll host in Feb. Six games into the season, however, the Dallas Cowboys are on a three-game losing streak, looking for just their second win of the season and without their quarterback for an extended period of time.
How could it get any worse for coach Wade Phillips? It will, if the 1-5 Cowboys lose to the 3-4 Jaguars on Sunday at plush, new Cowboys Stadium.
"We've been close in every game. We just haven't found a way to win a close game. Until last game, we've completely outgained the other team by quite a bit, but we didn't win the turnover battle or we had a kick returned or something like that, and this last game we got three more turnovers than they did and ran a punt back for a touchdown but we didn't win," Phillips said in bemoaning his team's losing ways.
The Cowboys are fifth in the league in offense and 10th in defense, but they're tied with the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers for the next-to-worst record in the NFC. It's almost unthinkable that a team with a quarterback among the top six in the league in passer rating and with the league's leading sacker is teetering on the brink of becoming an also-ran before the season is half over.
Worse, yet, for the Cowboys is that quarterback Tony Romo fractured his collarbone in Monday night's loss to the Giants and by the time he's ready to return to action, the Cowboys' season could be lost.
Jon Kitna, a 38-year-old journeyman quarterback, will replace Romo for Sunday's game. Kitna long ago lost his mobility but Phillips says Kitna "still has a live arm. He's a very good leader, too, and I think that's going to show up," Phillips said.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have their own problems. At 3-2, they rode a wave of optimism into a Monday night game at home against the Titans. Now, the Jaguars are coming off 27 and 22-point defeats and they need a win to resurrect their playoff hopes.
Would another loss bury the Jaguars?
"I wouldn't say bury but it would be a deep hole to get out of," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "Saying things and doing things are totally different. All we can do is show you. I can sit here and tell you how urgent we want to be and how important every play is, but if we don't go out and show it, what does that really mean? It's kind of done talking now. It's put up or shut up. That's what we're about to do."
In the Jaguars' favor is the return of their quarterback, David Garrard, who missed the team's loss in Kansas City after sustaining a concussion in the Monday night game against Tennessee.
"It's nothing a win can't cure. We get a win and now we're 4-4 and we're back with the chance of everything we look forward to for this season, giving ourselves a chance for a postseason run. That's what we need," Garrard said.
One team will come out of Sunday's game with hope. The other will see the handwriting of a potential lost season on the wall. This is a tipping-point game for the Jaguars. The Cowboys are hoping they aren't already beyond that point.