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The Dallas Cowboys may have won the NFC East three times in the past five seasons, but that hasn’t stopped head coach Jason Garrett from feeling the pressure that comes with leading “America’s Team.”

What really matters: As the Cowboys haven’t progressed past the divisional round since the 1995 Super Bowl-winning team If they are to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the stars will need to align perfectly.

  • The legend of Larry Allen lives on: Dallas has long had one of the top offensive lines in the league and still does. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott has reaped the benefits with an average of 4.7 yards per carry over his NFL career. Star center Travis Frederick’s availability is still in question after missing the 2018 season due to complications from Guillain–Barré syndrome. Zack Martin and Tyron Smith are key to the team’s run game as well.
  • The new OC: One year ago at this time, Kellen Moore was an experienced backup quarterback with the team. He quickly became quarterbacks coach, and following the departure of much-maligned offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Moore will take control of the team’s offense. The 30-year-old will need to find his legs immediately with two divisional match-ups to begin the season.
  • First-round talent: The Cowboys made a big splash by trading their 2019 first-round pick for Amari Cooper in October. The former Raider bounced back from a disastrous 2017 campaign where he made only 48 catches and immediately transformed the Cowboy offense. After averaging a career-high 80.9 receiving yards per game in Dallas, the Cowboys will need him to continue producing at similar levels.

The most important names: The Cowboys have three key positional players that need to rise up to their acclaim and talent in 2019. And of those three, it really only matters if Dak Prescott can live up the hype that was created in his first season.

  • Quarterback: Now in the final year of his rookie contract, Prescott has been consistent in his three seasons as a starter, but will need to display improvement this year. He has been good for roughly 3,400 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions per season over his career. Those are not bad numbers by any means, yet not the numbers of a dominant quarterback.
  • Linebacker: For years, the Cowboys’ defensive success relied on the health of Sean Lee at linebacker. That’s no longer the case, as last year’s first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch burst onto the scene with a 140-tackle season which earned him a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie. With Lee returning and Jaylon Smith showing promise, a repeat of Vander Esch’s 2018 season would go a long way.
  • Cornerback: The strength of the Cowboy defense is more along the defensive line and linebacking corps, but Byron Jones is the anchor of the secondary. A First Team All-Pro selection by Pro Football Focus last year, Jones defended a career-high 14 passes and made his first Pro Bowl as well. The rest of Dallas’ cornerbacks are a step below Jones, and he will once again be tasked with shutting down star receivers.

The competition: While Sunday Night Football may live for NFC East games, the truth is no one else does. With the exception of a pop-up season in 2017, the division is weak.

  • Brotherly love: The Cowboys would likely be the unanimous favorite in the East if not for the presence of the Philadelphia Eagles, which return most of their core from two consecutive deep playoff runs. Carson Wentz is back and hopefully will be healthy, and the team’s top-notch defense will not make things easy for Dallas.
  • Cesspool on the Potomac: The Redskins cobbled together a 7-9 record in 2018 despite a never-ending quarterback rotation. Rookie Dwayne Haskins is now on the scene, and while his performance at the highest level is still an unknown, he is surrounded by enough talent where the Redskins could surprise their doubters, given a rookie of the year performance.
  • Meadowlands: Giants fans can likely expect another top-10 pick after trading away star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and drafting quarterback Daniel Jones in the first round. Whether it’s Eli Manning or Jones leading the G-Men this year, they have too many holes in their roster to be considered a threat to take the division.

The intrigue: Despite pressure from media and fans, Garrett still has the confidence and trust of owner Jerry Jones. Missing the playoffs in 2019 wouldn’t produce any goodwill for Garrett, but it’s unlikely to cost him his job.

  • Acceptable mediocrity: The Cowboys went 8-8 and missed the playoffs in each of Garrett’s first three seasons with the team. A playoff appearance last year likely earned him at least one more season — barring a bottom-five record and tumultuous collapse.
  • 24 years and counting: 1996 was the last time the Cowboys celebrated a championship. Unfortunately, America’s team now resides just outside of Boston. It needs to return to Arlington. And soon.

The bottom line: The Cowboys have become a bit of a joke around the NFL in the last decade. Maybe even longer than that. Saying they have a chance to raise the Lombardi Trophy in February of 2020 would be foolish. Nothing has changed in Big D. Leadership seems to be the problem. Unless Jones steps back and Garrett is released from his duties, there’s no Super Bowl in the Cowboys’ future.

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Nebraska native and Husker football expert, also known to watch more soccer than recommended by my doctors.