As one of the most popular football teams, the Dallas Cowboys are commonly referred to as America’s Team. Despite winning the NFC East division seven times, America’s Team has yet to make it past the Divisional Round since their last Super Bowl win in 1995. In that span, the Cowboys have just four playoff victories.
When you create the gargantuan following the Cowboys have, expectations are always high. Playing in one of America’s greatest football stadiums of all time, the Cowboys have a knack for drawing attention. Being featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks for the third time is a great example of how the ‘Boys seem drawn to the spotlight.
Last season provided a glimpse of a dominant offense before Dak Prescott went down for the year. It also highlighted many of the flaws in the Dallas defense. Watching the NFC East division race down the stretch was undoubtedly frustrating for Cowboys fans on the outside looking in.
With their star quarterback returning from injury, the Cowboys should be able to fare much better should a similar division race ensue. In fact, I’d argue the Cowboys are a strong Super Bowl LVI contender, here’s why.
1. Dak Prescott’s return gives Cowboys top-five offense
Of the five games Dak Prescott played, the Dallas Cowboys scored 31 or more points in four of them. The only one where Dallas scored just 17 came against the NFL’s second-best defense in Week 1.
Prescott averaged 371.2 passing yards per game, leading the NFL at the time of his injury. The week before he got hurt, Dak was on pace to throw for more yards than any other player in NFL history. He was the top choice for MVP, but his unfortunate injury ruined what could’ve been a historic year.
In 2019 when the Cowboys were healthier on offense, Dak threw for nearly 5,000 yards and Zeke had over 1,700 yards from scrimmage. This offensive explosion led to the Cowboys having the sixth-best scoring offense in the NFL.
Since then, the Cowboys have added CeeDee Lamb, who could quickly become their top receiver. If they can avoid the injury bug in Dallas, the Cowboys could easily have four different offensive players gain 1,000 yards from scrimmage.
Ultimately, if you can score more than your opponent, you win. That’s the game. In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys have the potential to put up more points than any other team, but for them, it all starts up front.
2. O-Line is still strong in the Big D
With the offensive line decimated by injuries and Prescott missing 11 games, Ezekiel Elliott and the remaining offense had a down year.
Dallas has had Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins holding down the O-line since 2015, forming an elite group. In 2020, the talented trio missed 36 games combined, or in other words, they played just 12 out of a possible combined 48 games.
With all three expected to be fully healthy heading into training camp, the Dallas line should return to dominance.
The last time we saw Collins play was in 2019 when he was snubbed for the Pro Bowl. With the return of the Cowboys’ best linemen, Zeke Elliott should be able to rush for over 1,300 yards once again.
As PFF pointed out, the Cowboys finished the 2020 year ranked 27th in their OL rankings. Entering the 2021 season, they have Dallas ranked sixth. As long as they hold up in the trenches, putting up big numbers on the scoreboard will become second nature again for the Dallas Cowboys.
3. Dallas’ D will surpass expectations
Entering the offseason, Jerry Jones knew things had to change in the Big D. Defensively, Dallas was fifth-worst in the NFL, allowing 29.6 points per game. After changing coordinators, the Dallas front office wanted to provide Dan Quinn with some fresh talent. When the draft came along, the Cowboys’ first six selections were all defenders.
In the trenches, the Cowboys have two above-average pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Previously a strength, linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have both regressed in the past two seasons. Newcomer Micah Parsons was touted as possibly the best defender in the draft.
With the ability to play sideline to sideline, if Parsons can live up to his high rookie expectations, Dallas’ linebacker unit could get back to being a force.
The health of Vander Esch and Jaylon will influence their success and the secondary still has plenty of questions, but at least Dallas has the right coaches and players in place to begin the year.
4. Coaching staff comes with lots of experience
Last season, the defense in Dallas was atrocious. Even with a healthy year from its stars, the inefficiencies likely would have prevented the Cowboys from doing much damage in the playoffs. After struggling defensively, Jerry Jones made the switch from Mike Nolan to Dan Quinn.
Quinn, who rose to fame during his play-calling days with the Seahawks in the Legion of Boom era, brings plenty of experience and expertise. In Seattle, Quinn became a Super Bowl winner as defensive coordinator. In Atlanta, Quinn’s Falcons lost to Tom Brady in one of the greatest comebacks in Super Bowl history.
Now, he gets another chance to turn around a woefully bad defense. With fewer responsibilities going from head coach to D coordinator, Quinn can focus on what made him a top coaching candidate in the first place.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has ample experience going deep into the postseason with the Packers. In that time, McCarthy’s teams reached the playoffs nine times and won a Super Bowl. He’s learned from some of his past mistakes and now has a strong staff to reduce his stress. Now realigned with a young superstar quarterback, McCarthy could be back on the same path.
5. Dallas Cowboys have NFC East’s best team
In the NFL, things tend to start at the top. Looking at the quarterback situations around the NFC East, the Cowboys definitely have the best signal-caller. In Washington, the season’s starter has yet to be announced. In Philadelphia, their starting QB was benched in the last game of the season. New York’s starter has the most turnovers by a quarterback in the NFL since 2019.
Last year, 7-9 was good enough to win the division. Even with their best player injured for 11 games, the Cowboys went 6-10. With a full season from Prescott, there’s no way the Cowboys finish with a worse record than last year.
By winning the division crown, the Cowboys could set themselves up for a higher chance of having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Since AT&T Stadium was built in 2009, the Cowboys have gone 3-1 at home in playoff matchups.
A strong record led by a dominant offense and an improved defense could be enough for the Dallas Cowboys to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time in over 25 years. If the stars align, Jerry World’s gonna be lit.