The thing that ties the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots is an intense dislike shared by the rest of the league. It’s the one strand that binds two franchises with opposite trajectories.
The Cowboys were one of the most dominant teams of the 1970s and built a fan base that helped them remain the league’s most valuable franchise to this day. Their five titles and overall success from 1970 to 2000 were the envy of the league, especially compared to the inconsistent Patriots squads that lost their only two Super Bowl appearances in the same time period.
“The Cowboys has been one of the premier franchises in all of sports … they’ve done so much for the game, for the league,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his weekly press conference.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady feels differently. “I’ve really not liked the Cowboys since coming out of the womb,” he said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Brady and Belichick are responsible for New England joining the Cowboys among the ranks of the NFL’s most despised teams. When the Patriots won the first of their six Super Bowl trophies in 2001, few would have predicted that they would appear in eight more title games in the next 17 years.
Michael Bennett, the Cowboys’ defensive end and a former Patriot, attributes a lot of that to Belichick. “Bill’s a great motivator. He’s a savant. He knows how to put people in great positions to make plays.”
Now that the two teams are facing off, Dallas is hoping to avoid the fate that befell their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite his dislike for Dallas, Brady and the Patriots gave them a boost last week when they defeated Philly 17-10. The Eagles are locked in a battle with Dallas for the NFC East, and the loss dropped Philly a game behind the Cowboys in the division standings.
It was a win that made the infamously crabby Belichick so happy that he even cracked a few smiles. Beyond that, he gave the Patriots a “Victory Monday,” the team’s name for canceling practice in favor of an off day.
Time will tell if New England could have used that extra day of practice, because the Cowboys are playing some of their best football of the season. It’s taken awhile for Dallas to get back to this level of play, as the squad dropped three straight games after opening the season with three straight wins. That inconsistency brought up memories of the 2017 season, when America’s Team started 4-6 before correcting ship to finish 9-7.
It’s not a make-or-break year for head coach Jason Garrett, but he must be feeling some pressure in his fourth year working with his star players, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot. Expectations have been high since Garrett and the two then-rookies led Dallas to a 13-3 season in 2016. But the Cowboys haven’t made it past the divisional round of the playoffs since 1995.
What the Cowboys have shown this season is enough to make the Patriots nervous. “They certainly present a lot of problems from a matchup standpoint,” Belichick said.
Elliot agrees, highlighting a potent Dallas offense: “The receivers and Dak are rolling, as long they have the hot hand, we’ll give them the ball.”
The Cowboys are hoping to keep that “hot hand,” especially against a Patriots team that has won 20 straight home games.
Watch: New England Patriots vs. Dallas Cowboys at 4:25 p.m. ET on Fox, playing at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts