After a 13-3 regular season in 2016, the Dallas Cowboys looked like a team on the rise. They were invigorated with a great deal of new offensive talent at key positions and its defense was making important stops regularly. Last season saw a steep decline to 9-7, in part caused by the suspension of RB Ezekiel Elliott. The offensive line was not nearly as good without Elliott playing, which led to the chicken or the egg question, was the O-Line really dominant or did Zeke make them look that way?
This placed added pressure on second-year quarterback Dak Prescott, who ended up playing like many thought he would as a rookie. Prescott was more hesitant in the pocket during November's three-game losing streak and was quicker to run as opposed to looking downfield for receivers.
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Dallas did win four of their last five for a respectable finish, but will they return to a playoff team in 2018?
Oddsmakers Not Sold On Cowboys Talk
Owner Jerry Jones felt last year was an aberration and Dallas is ready to compete with Super Bowl champion Philadelphia in the division and in the NFC.
Sportsbooks are inclined to disagree with this as the Cowboys win total set at 8 and listed as the eighth-best bet to win the NFC, which means they are not considered a playoff squad. Whose correct, let's make the case for either.
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Where Exactly Is Dallas These Days?
The one aspect about Dallas that looks solid is their defense. Coach Jason Garrett's defenders were in the Top 8 in total defense the last two years and permitted less than 21 points per contest. They are deep in the defensive line which helps cover up some holes in the secondary. Also, with changes in the defensive coaching staff, there is real possibility the Cowboys could turn into a Top 5 stop-unit in 2018, barring injuries of course.
Where there is less certainty is on the offensive side of the ball. With the retirement of Jason Witten and the release of Dez Bryant, Prescott has become the face of the franchise. Though Witten had lost a step, he still was a third down asset for Prescott. Bryant was also not an elite performer, having trouble creating separation and was more injury-prone. Having given up on receiver Ryan Switzer, Dallas was looking in a different direction.
The additions of Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, and Tavon Austin add the potential for more big plays, but a receiver Prescott can count on, that we will have to wait and see.
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Also, Garrett does not have a tight end anywhere close to Witten, making that position more interchangeable for blocking and receiving purposes with less production.
What really seems to matter the most is the offensive line pass-blocking and having Elliott being closer to his 5.1 yards a carry as a rookie, compared to 4.1 YPC last season.
The schedule is tough, but not overwhelming and we all know by now perception and reality are often different when the ball is snapped starting in September.
Dallas is definitely capable of winning nine, maybe even 10 games, but like all Jerry Jones teams since they won the Super Bowl in 1996, disappointment is always right around the corner no matter the expectations.