With the season almost upon us, Ben Sathananthan takes a look at the teams of the strong NFC East. Starting today with the Dallas Cowboys
Yet again, the NFC East stands to be one of the toughest divisions in football. After producing the most unlikely of Superbowl winners in the NY Giants last season, the division looks to hold 3 genuine contenders for the Vince Lombardi trophy again this time round. Divisional games and Quarterback play will decide who wins this division, with so many elite quarterbacks, it may come down to the final week again.
The Off-season is over, Training camps have been run and Pre-Season games are in the books so who is likely to emerge victorious from this toughest of divisions in the season ahead.
Must watch games:
Week 1 @ Giants
Week 4 vs. Bears
Week 8 vs. Giants
Week 9 @ Falcons
Week 10 @ Eagles
Week 13 vs. Eagles
W @ Raiders 3-0
L @ Chargers 20-28
W vs. Rams 20-19
W vs. Dolphins 30-13
The Cowboys struggled towards the end of last season after the huge loss of QB Tony Romo and WR Miles Austin and stumbled to an 8-8 record after the inspired return of Romo had them leading the division coming into December. Few positives to come out of the season were the discovery of WR Laurent Robinson and RB DeMarco Murray, who also succumbed to injury after such a promising start, and the improved offensive line, thanks to the fantastic debut season of RT Tyron Smith.
However with Robinson off to the Jaguars, the depth at wide receiver again will be tested with Austin again sidelined with a hamstring injury. That’s not the only problem however, Romo’s favourite target Jason Witten went down against the Chargers with a lacerated spleen and is likely to miss the season opener against the Giants at the Meadowlands. Defensive anchor DeMarcus Ware also stands to miss the opener due to a hamstring issue leaving the Cowboys light on key players in this crucial encounter with the team they’ll likely challenge for the NFC East.
It seems that the Cowboys have fixed the leaky secondary that allowed the allowed so many heartbreaking defeats on final drives last season with the additions of Corners Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. The Cowboys should still be one of the top rush defences in the league with Ware and ILB Sean Lee. The improvement on the defensive side of the ball should be enough to get the Cowboys back to the playoffs barring another injury marred season from the offensive side of things.
It remains to be seen who will emerge as the Cowboys third receiver after streaky showings in the pre-season by Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris but you will count that either one of them will be called upon if Dallas’ injury streak continues. Kyle Orton is an improvement on Jon Kitna as a backup quarterback if Romo can’t keep healthy which seems possible with the injury to C Phil Costa causing him to miss the entire preseason. Romo was on fire while he was on the field last year posting the 4th highest passer rating in the league behind Rodgers, Brees and Brady.
When healthy, this Cowboys team has the ability to play with the best of teams in the NFL, however, health again could cause the team again to miss the playoffs. There is a possibility that this team could go as high as 12-4 but again, that will come down to divisional play. The Cowboys were 2-4 last season, losing both games to the Eagles and Giants. Those games again stand as the must win games if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs so the Cowboys must start positively against the team who ended their playoff chances last season in order to start this season off in the right frame of mind.
With an improved running game and secondary, there is no reason the Cowboys shouldn’t go 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs.
UPDATE: The first team on offence looked great running through their sets and Romo looked on for another fantastic year against the Rams on Saturday, however depth seems an issue as the drop off was huge, not scoring and allowing the Rams to come within 1. Whoever performs out of Harris and Ogletree against the Dolphins will get the third receiver spot for the Giants game.
Tomorrow – A look at the NY Giants