The Dallas Cowboys are hoping to improve upon their 9-7 record from last season. Realistically, however, compiling even a .500 record at season’s end will be a struggle for America’s Team.
Despite a late-season surge in which Dallas won four of their last five, it was a loss against the Seahawks in Week 16 that sealed their fate. The Cowboys needed a win at home to contend for a postseason berth but Dak Prescott was limited to 181 passing yards and tossed two interceptions that contributed to a 21-12 defeat. They would go on to win their final game 6-0 against a Philadelphia team that played it safe and rested many of their starters in anticipation of the postseason, but the Cowboys' playoff aspirations had already been dashed in the loss to Seattle. When the dust settled, Dallas garnered a 9-7 record and an early vacation in 2017.
Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys' offensive stars, will return with the former having regressed in his sophomore campaign from his rookie season while the latter is hoping to stay out of trouble and away from the likes of a six-game suspension that interrupted his 2017 season. The biggest news in the offseason was the release of three-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, whose productivity had waned since he signed a five-year, $70-million pact in 2014, and the retirement of future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten. Dallas’ immediate future is suspect and the NFL odds being offered illustrate that uncertainty.
Odds to Win NFC East: +360 (2nd)
Odds to Win the NFC: +1400 (8th)
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +3000 (13th)
Let’s review Dallas’s regular-season records over the last three years and include the total season wins for this year.
2018: 8½ (-110)
2017: 9½ (U-130) (9-7 record)
2016: 8 (-110) (13-3 record)
2015: 9½ (O-120) (4-12 record)
Offense: Ezekiel Elliott might want to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with Dez Bryant and see for himself just how quickly a star can fall. Bryant, at only 29, is officially on the NFL scrap heap and remains a free agent after a storied career filled with highs on the gridiron and more than a few lows off of it. Prescott and Elliott will have to ramp up their games if the Cowboys are to have any success this season. In addition to losing Bryant, the Cowboys will be without their locker room leader and emotional linchpin, Jason Witten.
Defense: The Boyz hope the No. 19 overall pick in the draft, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, will at least dissipate some of the sting that resulted in Anthony Hitchens' decision to take the money and run to Kansas City. The good news is that defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and his 14½ sacks from last year will again be wreaking havoc in opposition backfields for the Cowboys. The bad news is that the club failed to sign him to a long-term deal and had to pin him with the franchise tag for this season. The Cowboys should be tenacious in the trenches assuming Lawrence resembles the player he was in 2017 and the recently acquired Kony Ealy can feed off that energy and return to the chaos maker he was a few years ago.
Bottom Line: Dallas is tied with Miami for 15th place in strength of schedule, with their 2018 opponents averaging a .500 record last season. There have been plenty of changes in the offseason but I don’t see how the Cowboys improve with a wide receiving corps, pedestrian at best last season, now devoid of a playmaker like Dez Bryant. Yes, like Jason Witten, Bryant’s skills had diminished but Dallas has done little to supply Prescott with any lethal weapons, save for the signing of Allen Hurns, whose resume boasts one outstanding season among three forgettable campaigns. This team leaves me cold and their one superstar, Ezekiel Elliott, is a wildcard because his lack of maturity off the field could preclude him from playing on it.
As I review their upcoming schedule, I predict them splitting the season series with divisional rivals Washington and New York while getting swept by the bullies on the block, Philadelphia. Two wins out of six divisional games but let’s press on. I see the Cowboys winning games against Tennessee (home), Indianapolis (road), and Tampa Bay (home). That’s about the sum total and it looks like a record of 5-11, which means you should go "under 8½" with Dallas in your NFL picks for total wins in the 2018 season.