For the past 3 seasons the Cowboys have finished 8-8 and have lost the last game of the regular season to miss the playoffs to each of their division rivals. To have any chance at making the playoffs, the Cowboys will have to be a top-five offense. This defense can't get any worse than last year statistically, but it will likely rank toward the bottom of the league again.
NFC East Outlook
One thing to be positive in the NFC East division is that there is no clear frontrunner at the top of the division. Each team has a number of questions surrounding them going into the season. The Eagles were impressive last season under first-year head coach Chip Kelly, but quarterback Nick Foles is far from proven. Also it's still unclear how the departure of DeSean Jackson will affect Foles in the passing game
The Redskins and Giants have plenty of questions, too. Eli Manning can turn into an interception machine if he doesn't have enough time in the pocket. Unlike Romo, he doesn't make a lot of plays with his feet. And it's hard to know what to expect from Robert Griffin III. He's talked about wanting to stay in the pocket more. That sounds good in theory, but he took the league by storm two years ago by using his elite speed. He doesn't need to lose that threat and thus far he's looked less than impressive during the preseason.
The Cowboys finished with a 5-1 record against their division rivals and that was with a league worse defense.
The Cowboys have the all the talent necessary to become an elite offense capable of winning some shootouts. New offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett have worked together in the past in Miami. This is not a forced play-calling marriage like what was seen with Garrett and Bill Callahan last season. Linehan already has an elite receiver and playmaker in Dez Bryant to go along with quarterback Tony Romo. Linehan has a pass-happy reputation, but it's been awhile since he's had a feature back like DeMarco Murray.
With all the young athletic talent the Cowboys have on the offensive line look for them to become a more balanced offense than in years past. Scott Lineham has already come out publicly and stated that he won't allow Romo to check out of run plays as often as he did last season. Poor play calling and clock time management cost the Cowboys a couple losses last season, most notably against the Green Bay Packers after they had a double digit lead.
Linehan will try to throw the ball to Murray and third-down back Lance Dunbar quite a bit. Dunbar brings a different dimension to the running back position and is elusive in the open field. The Cowboys have high hopes for both running backs this season if they can stay healthy.
With a potentially elite offensive line the Cowboys are hoping Romo will have all the protection he needs to keep him healthy for all 16 games. Coming off offseason back surgery there are still some concerns whether or not Romo will be able to stay upright for all 16 regular season games. The Cowboys hope with the addition of 16th draft pick , offensive guard Zack Martin, Romo will have all the protection he needs.
With a new coordinator and a greater emphasis on being a more balanced attack offensively, look for the Cowboys offense to be elite if Romo is able to stay healthy.
Garrett should feel a lot better about turning the defensive responsibility over to Rod Marinelli. The game was just a little too fast for former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Marinelli won't have to pay homage to his longtime mentor Kiffin because he's in more of a consulting role.
This defense was historically bad last season with nowhere to go but up. Losing middle linebacker Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury was a huge setback. The Cowboys have brought in former 8th overall draft pick out of Alabama, Rolando McClain, to fill Lee's shoes.
McClain has been one of the bright spots for the Cowboys defense in the preseason and there's no denying he has the talent capable of being an above average middle linebacker for Dallas. The question with him is whether he can maintain his focus on football for the whole season, if so he'll be a hugh boost to this defense.
Bruce Carter and Justin Durant will fill weak and strong outside linebacker positions respectively. Carter moving over to the weakside may be a good thing as he's played better at that position during the preseason. The move may be something that is able to revive Carter's once promising career.
Another player who could potentially have a huge bounceback season is cornerback Mo Claiborne. His 2013 season was undermined by injury and his whining about the team's defensive scheme. If Claiborne could win a starting spot coming out of training camp, the Cowboys could actually have some decent depth at corner. Claiborne has a major opportunity to prove his staying power with Orlando Scandrick suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to violating the NFL's drug policy.
The defensive line is actually deeper this year but still remains unproven. The loss of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher is a blow to this team but not as big as many seem to believe. Ware hadn't been the same elite pass rusher the Cowboys were accustomed to over the years and that's largely due to injuries he's sustained in recent seasons. Jason Hatcher had a breakout season last year with the Cowboys but at age 32 is unlikely to replicate his 2013 Pro Bowl season.
This is the final season of Garret's contract. Jerry Jones desperately wants him to succeed, but another 8-8 season would likely get him fired. And if you haven't been keeping up, the Cowboys go 8-8 every season.
The season-ending knee injury suffered by middle linebacker Sean Lee (knee) during an OTA session means that the NFL's 32nd-ranked defense in 2013 will again be without their most talented defensive player. The defensive line is deeper but still unimpressive and the secondary still features two underachieving starting cornerbacks in Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. The offense should be potent enough to keep the Cowboys in most games, but having to win shootouts each week isn't a recipe for sustained success. This is the final season of Garret's contract. Jerry Jones desperately wants him to succeed, but another 8-8 season would likely get him fired. And if you haven't been keeping up, the Cowboys go 8-8 every season.
Prediction: Another 8-8 season until the Cowboys prove otherwise.