Here We Go Again
As much as I love hearing about my Dallas Cowboys going into every season, it can also be kind of annoying.
Are they Super Bowl contenders? Will they win the division? What does Jerry Jones think? What are the expectations for their star quarterback? What do you think of the head coach? Look at all that talent they have. They’re in primetime. (And, of course, they’re on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” for the third time in franchise history.)
It never stops even into the season. There’s always hype. There’s always negativity. And Jerry loves every bit of it because they’re talking about his team — America’s Team.
As the 2021 regular season starts tomorrow night against the defending champion-Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the expectation is to win, of course, but at what extent?
The offense is loaded on talent. Health is the only thing holding them back. The defense made improvements from the worst in franchise history, but how much better will they be with a new coordinator and many young players? Most importantly, how will head coach Mike McCarthy fare in his second year after a disastrous 6–10 campaign?
Everyone wants to talk about the return of star quarterback Dak Prescott from that gruesome right ankle dislocation in October last year. He finally got his max deal for four years and $160 million, which they never stopped talking about from the beginning of the 2019 season until March 2021. He returned ahead of his schedule but a latissimus strain to his right shoulder occurring on July 28th, just a week into training camp, sidelined him for three weeks and inevitably the preseason. Everybody knows how great is and much he was missed last season, but the question is will he stay healthy and how will the rust wear off without live-game action for 11 months?
Ezekiel Elliott is looking to have a bounce-back season after recording his first full one without 1,000 yards rushing besides 2017 when he missed six games due to suspension. He’s lost weight as it’s the lightest he’s felt since his freshman year in college, which should help with his speed. Is he going to live up to his ridiculous six-year, $90 million contract? A healthy season from his best friend, Dak, would go a long way. The versatile Tony Pollard should provide good support as before.
The Cowboys are stacked at wide receiver. Amari Cooper got his max deal worth four years and $80 million. CeeDee Lamb is looking to raise his ceiling even more with how impressive he looks going into his second year. Michael Gallup should continue to be a factor in possibly the best trio in the NFL.
Never has the health of the offensive line been more important heading into a season. Dallas was essentially without their tackles last season, All-Pro Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, a Pro Bowl snub a year prior, and they suffered for it. Brandon Knight, an undrafted second-year player, and Terrence Steele, an undrafted rookie from Texas Tech, were just not ready as they were thrown into the action. Smith feels as good as he’s ever been and got read of the neck brace. Collins had a stinger a few weeks ago though. The only backup tackle Dallas signed was Ty Nsekhe and he hasn’t looked great. Fourth-round pick Josh Ball might have to fill in if necessary as well.
All-Pro right guard Zack Martin missed the last five games of 2020 and will miss tomorrow night after contracting COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. Connor McGovern will fill in. Connor Williams will fill in at left guard as his rookie contract expires and needs to perform well in order to get a new one. Center Tyler Biadasz enters his second year after making late strides as a fourth-round rookie last season.
Starting tight end Blake Jarwin looks to be healthy after missing all of last season with a torn ACL in the season opener. Dalton Shultz filled in nicely as yet another offensive weapon.
The defense needs to at least not be terrible with the offense leading the way as former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn leads the unit.
The defensive line looks to be better after giving up the most rushing yards in franchise history a year ago. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is still the best player and makes an impact but needs more sacks. Randy Gregory is going into a season without any suspension for the first time since 2018, which was his only time, and will look to showcase his full potential in his seventh season as a pro. Defensive end free agent acquisitions Brent Urban and Tarell Basham should provide good depth and could play inside.
It’s a bummer that defensive tackle Neville Gallimore will miss the first 2–4 weeks of the season with a dislocated elbow, but when he returns, he’ll be looking to take a step forward in his second year. Free agent acquisition Carlos Watkins should do a serviceable job filling in. Third-round pick Osa Odighizuwa should be getting playing time as well as sixth-rounder Quinton Bohanna.
Linebacker is the best position on defense. First-round rookie Micah Parsons looks like a beast. He’s versatile and hungry, always wanting to be on the field and learn as he showed in Hard Knocks. Leighton Vander Esch is looking to return to his rookie form and more importantly, better health, as he’s in a contract year. Jaylon Smith is the one financial regret on this side of the ball as he looks lost a lot and celebrates like an idiot when his team is getting blown out. He could be on the trading block soon.
Free agent acquisition Keanu Neal, a Quinn transfer, is looking impressive and could play linebacker and strong safety at times. Fourth-round pick Jabril Cox could get some playing time too as he looks better in the game than in practice.
The secondary might need the biggest improvement. That’s part of why eight of the Cowboys’ eleven draft picks were on defense. Second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs is probably the best at his position on this team as he has a terrific knack for the ball. Second-round pick Kelvin Joseph might start as he’ll compete with Anthony Brown, who’s just okay, for playing time. Jourdan Lewis got a new deal unlike his defensive back counterparts, Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods, as he’ll primarily play the slot. Tall, lengthy corners, Nahshon Wright and Israel Mukuamu, drafted fourth and sixth round, will look to get some playing time.
The safety position is finally being addressed. Quinn transfer Damontae Kazee is coming off a torn Achilles tendon but will look to return to his prior form in 2018 when he tied the league in interceptions. Former first-round pick Malik Hooker, who had seven interceptions in his first three seasons, is coming off an ACL tear too. The tall, 6'4" free acquisition in Jayron Kearse adds depth along with Donovan Wilson.
Whenever I wrote about McCarthy getting hired and how he was better than Jason Garrett, I felt I was right. However, I wasn’t sure if we were going to get the good McCarthy who had a Super Bowl trophy, four conference championship appearances, ten playoff wins, and six division titles or the bad, most recent version who had an 11–16–1 record in his final two seasons in Green Bay.
Last year, the Cowboys were undisciplined with the turnovers, penalties and terrible defense, always having to come back. McCarthy would make questionable calls, being way too caught up in analytics, going for it on fourth down, a counter to his predecessor, as well as doing as many fake punts as I’ve ever seen in my life that were just wild horse. He just doesn’t always look like he knows what he’s doing.
Maybe we’re wrong and we see the good version, and I think this year will be better fortune as they finished last year strong, winning three of their last four games, and have a full offseason, implementing a new defensive scheme that’s more fitted to the player’s strengths. If they can stay healthy, particularly on offense, I like this team winning the division at 10–7 as no one in the NFC East ever repeats, but they’ll lose in the first round. (I know. It looks weird. I hate the 17 games.) If not and this team takes another plunge, missing the postseason for the third straight year, then he could be canned although I think the chances aren’t super high.
Listed below are my NFL playoff predictions.
NFC Seeds: 1) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2) Green Bay Packers 3) San Francisco 49ers 4) Dallas Cowboys 5) Los Angeles Rams 6) Seattle Seahawks 7) New Orleans Saints
AFC Seeds: 1) Kansas City Chiefs 2) Buffalo Bills 3) Cleveland Browns 4) Tennessee Titans 5) New England Patriots 6) Baltimore Ravens 7) Los Angeles Chargers
NFC Championship Game: Tampa Bay over Los Angeles Rams
AFC Championship Game: Kansas City over Cleveland
The Madden cover for this year is Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. Last year’s Super Bowl was these two and I like a rematch, the first in 28 years (Cowboys-Bills). Tampa returns all 22 starters along with the old, 44-year-old GOAT with a full offseason. The Chiefs got better on the offensive line after not having their tackles in the big game, which allowed Tampa to dominate, 31–9. I just think Mahomes and Co. are determined to win it after coming up short on running it back. And Brady, of course, just seems to be in the Super Bowl ever year.
This should be a much better year in the NFL (and all of sports). The fans are back in full force although that darn Delta Variant is around and children under 12 can’t get vaccinated along with some players who refuse to do so and are paying the consequences. (Teams could too if there’s an outbreak, causing a forfeit.) Regardless, it won’t be so depressing to watch so many of these games. It took a toll on the fans watching from home and now it’s to see a little bit of normalcy.