The Dallas Cowboys had a disappointing season in 2017. Coming off a breakout season in 2016, they expected to be one of the leading Super Bowl contenders last season. However, the Cowboys were sunk by a sluggish start and then a three-game losing streak in November, with the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott being a contributing factor in a few of those losses. Despite winning four of their last five games to finish 9-7, Dallas fell short of a playoff spot.
Despite that disappointment, both confidence and expectations remain high in Dallas heading into the 2018 season. Many of the same pieces that had the Cowboys expecting big things a year ago are back, giving Dallas a second chance to reach their first Super Bowl since the 1995 season.
The Cowboys enter 2018 as +3000 to win the Super Bowl. Considering how good they were two seasons ago, that could make them an enticing dark horse this season. However, the offseason saw just as many questions created as the Cowboys answered, so this team may not be ready to compete at the top of the NFC. Dallas is projected to match last year’s win total of nine games, which seems like a fair estimate, but one that may be tough to meet.
For the Cowboys, it’s all about the play of quarterback Dak Prescott. He had a sensational rookie season but fell back to earth in a big way last year. After throwing just four interceptions as a rookie, Prescott was picked off 13 times last year. His completion percentage also dropped significantly. He also struggled to throw the ball down the field and was more reliant on his legs to make plays.
Prescott must now face the challenge of no longer having Dez Bryant and Jason Whitten as safety nets. He and Bryant were never really on the same page, but there’s no denying that Bryant attracted a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are back, so Prescott should feel comfortable throwing to them. But Prescott will also have to develop chemistry with newcomers like Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, and Tavon Austin.
Naturally, the Dallas running game will take center stage. If Elliott can play in all 16 games this year, the Cowboys should have a steady rushing attack, especially with Prescott also being a threat with his legs. Of course, the offensive line that was so dominant two years ago had some issues in 2017. That group has added some depth over the offseason, but they still have much to prove. They also have to integrate rookie Connor Williams into the starting lineup, so there could be some growing pains early in the season.
On defense, the Cowboys look to have an impressive pass rush led by Demarcus Lawrence, who led the team with 14.5 sacks last year. However, Lawrence isn’t alone on the defensive line. The Cowboys also have capable pass rushers in Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and Kony Ealy.
Meanwhile, the rest of the defense is a concern. The secondary has a lot of new faces and may need a strong pass rush to keep them from being exposed. At linebacker, Sean Lee has had trouble staying healthy in recent years while Jaylon Smith is only expected to play 50% of the snaps this year. If those two aren’t full-time players, the Cowboys may need first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch to take on a prominent role early in the season.
Ultimately, if the offensive line and running game can return to their 2016 form, the Cowboys will be in a lot of games, and they should be able to win enough to keep them in the playoff hunt. However, if Prescott can’t be better throwing the ball and the Cowboys can’t solidify the back end of their defense, they’ll have a tough time keeping up with the top teams in the NFC.
|Sep 9||@ Carolina Panthers||4:25 PM|
|Sep 16||New York Giants||8:20 PM|
|Sep 23||@ Seattle Seahawks||4:25 PM|
|Sep 30||Detroit Lions||1:00 PM|
|Oct 7||@ Houston Texans||8:20 PM|
|Oct 14||Jacksonville Jaguars||4:25 PM|
|Oct 21||@ Washington Redskins||4:25 PM|
|Nov 5||Tennessee Titans||8:15 PM|
|Nov 11||@ Philadelphia Eagles||8:20 PM|
|Nov 18||@ Atlanta Falcons||1:00 PM|
|Nov 22||Washington Redskins||4:30 PM|
|Nov 29||New Orleans Saints||8:20 PM|
|Dec 9||Philadelphia Eagles||4:25 PM|
|Dec 16||@ Indianapolis Colts||1:00 PM|
|Dec 23||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1:00 PM|
|Dec 30||@ New York Giants||1:00 PM|
Life in the NFC got a lot harder with the Eagles now a championship-winning team. On top of that, the Cowboys face a difficult slate of road games in 2018. They don’t exactly have a favorable schedule ahead of them.
Week 1: at Panthers – Loss
The Cowboys are quite similar to the Panthers in that both are led by mobile quarterbacks. But Cam Newton is a more powerful runner and a more accomplished passer than Prescott. That’ll be the difference in this game, as the Cowboys struggle on the road in Week 1.
Week 2: vs Giants – Win
These two teams usually put on a good show, especially in primetime. Playing at home, the Dallas defense will force Eli Manning into a couple turnovers while Elliot and the running game do the rest.
Week 3: at Seahawks – Loss
The Cowboys lost to the Seahawks in Week 16 last year at home, and they may have a hard time going to Seattle and coming away with a win. Russell Wilson should be able to evade the Dallas pass rush enough to make some plays down the field, something Prescott will struggle to do against the Seattle defense.
Week 4: vs Lions – Win
The Lions will still be finding their way under Matt Patricia early in the season. The Cowboys should be able to seize the opportunity and eek out a win at home.
Week 5: at Texans – Win
The Cowboys have had a lot of success against their in-state rivals, and they’ll be able to keep that going. Dallas will counter Houston’s pass rush with a strong rushing attack that enables them to control the game and get a win.
Week 6: vs Jaguars – Win
The Jaguars may have a great defense, but their linebackers are undersized. The Dallas offensive line will get a push and Elliott will have no trouble wreaking havoc. Dallas is a 1-point favorite in this game, and that line will hold to form.
Week 7: at Redskins – Loss
The Cowboys drop the ball in this one. The momentum of a three-game winning streak comes to a screeching halt with one bad afternoon in Washington. Prescott turns it over three times to doom the Cowboys heading into their bye week.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: vs Titans – Win
The Cowboys get a week off to prepare for Marcus Mariota and the Titans, and that extra preparation time will pay big dividends. Once again, the Dallas running game gets the job done.
Week 10: at Eagles – Loss
The Cowboys beat an Eagles team that was resting its starters in Week 17 last year, but they won’t be that lucky this time around. On a Sunday night, the Eagles embarrass the Cowboys on national TV to assert their dominance in the NFC East.
Week 11: at Falcons – Loss
Atlanta is too balanced on offense for the Cowboys to handle, especially on the road. The Cowboys will suffer a second straight loss against a team likely bound for the playoffs.
Week 12: vs Redskins – Win
The Cowboys benefit from staying home on Thanksgiving, which helps them even the score against losing to the Redskins earlier in the season.
Week 13: vs Saints – Loss
The Cowboys aren’t so fortunate on this Thursday night at home. Drew Brees throws three touchdown passes against an overmatched Dallas defense, and there’s no way Dak Prescott can match him with his arm.
Week 14: vs Eagles – Loss
Even at home, the Cowboys can’t manage to beat the Eagles. Philadelphia is simply a more complete team, sending Dallas to their second straight home loss.
Week 15: at Colts – Loss
Andrew Luck is finally starting to round into form late in the season. Even with a decent pass rush, the Cowboys can’t seem to keep him contained, dropping their third straight.
Week 16: vs Buccaneers – Win
The Cowboys get a lifeline when they play the lowly Buccaneers at home. Prescott and Elliott take to the ground once again to get Dallas back on track.
Week 17: at Giants – Loss
The cold weather in late December suits the Dallas rushing attack. However, Prescott will struggle to throw the ball in the cold. That won’t be a problem for Manning, who puts together an outstanding performance against the Dallas defense.