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Cowboys ride Romo and Murray to get back in playoff hunt

Every Sunday night, Around The League takes a closer look at four of the day's most interesting subplots. We call it The Filthy Four ... mostly for alliteration purposes.

Cowboys rising

After a wipeout loss to the Eagles in Week 8, we vowed to shutter the Dallas Cowboys from this space until a) they had a winning record or b) Rob Ryan got a haircut.

Since Ryan is the NFL's version of the Big Lebowski, you can guess no white Russians were spilled on that front. But thanks to some impressively sharp play in back-to-back weeks, Dallas is now 5-4 and firmly entrenched in the NFC playoff picture. Plenty of credit belongs to DeMarco Murray, who has been doing a killer Adrian Peterson impression for a month now. But the Filthy Four doffs its filthy cap to one Antonio Ramiro Romo, whose outrageous first half (18-of-19, 237 yards, three touchdowns) stole the show in a romp of the fading Bills.

Of course, Romo is Greek theatre, which means something horrible will inevitably befall the man any moment now. So before that happens, let's give the man his due.

(We're serious, hurry up before it's too late.)

Andy Reid will be extra personable this week

The Eagles have become such a national joke at this point, we wouldn't be surprised if "Weird" Al Yankovic included a parody song about their 2011 season on his next album.

The collection of talent Vince Young once infamously referred to as a "Dream Team" (in hindsight, we should've considered the source) suffered its greatest indignity yet in a 21-17 home loss to the John Skelton-led Cardinals. John Skelton, people!

Michael Vick (16 of 34, 128 yards, two picks) is making an impressive late bid to unseat Chris Johnson as the most overpaid player in the league. Meanwhile, Andy Reid did the Andy Reid thing after the game, providing terse answers in a condescending tone to a media that's trying to understand how a team that was supposed to be so good could be this bad.

The Candlestick is on fire

It's time to start taking the 49ers seriously. San Francisco won its seventh straight game on Sunday, taking down a Giants team that had entered Week 10 playing with Jack Donaghy levels of confidence.

The Niners are now 8-1, with five games remaining against subpar teams from their own division. The No. 2 spot in the NFC playoffs is officially San Fran's to lose, which is mind-blowing when you remember how the conference was supposed to shake out in September.

Of course, if you still have serious reservations about Alex Smith's ability to win football games in January, we understand. That said, the Niners are in the process of carving out a playoff path that even a supreme game manager like Smith can navigate.

Gang Green infection

After consecutive wild-card playoff berths ended with losses in the AFC Championship Game, Rex Ryan made it a very public team goal for the Jets to finally win the AFC East and earn the easier road through the playoffs that comes with being a division champion.

The Jets had it all in front of them on Sunday night -- playing at home, against a reeling and beat-up Patriots team, with sole possession of first place on the line.

New York responded to the opportunity with a vintage "Same Old Jets" performance that left Fireman Ed catatonic in the Meadowlands parking lot, muttering J-E-T-S over and over to no one in particular. Tom Brady masterfully carved up Ryan's overrated defense in a 37-16 win, and the Patriots' D stepped up with a truly impressive showing considering the unit's injury issues.

With one game, the Patriots proved they're still very much a threat in the AFC. The Jets, meanwhile, have the look of a very good team that might never figure out how to be great.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.

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