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Five Lombardi Trophies in their history but they are long past history now and the franchise has not even made it as far as the NFC Championship Game since winning Super Bowl XXX in January of 1996. When expected to contend, the Dallas Cowboys have become "Next Year's Champions" and that was very much the case again in 2017. A 6-game suspension to starting Running Back Ezekiel Elliott that was looming over the teams head to start the season, then after a series of appeals the suspension finally kicked eight games into the season. They went 3-3 in his absence. After going 13-3 two years ago in the rookie years of Elliott and starting Quarterback Dak Prescott, expectations were as high as could be but fell short falling to 9-7 and missing the postseason. They look to avenge that in 2018, but will have their work cut out for them as they now lose long-time starting Tight End Jason Witten, who will be featured on ESPN's coverage of Monday Night Football, and the release of longtime "go-to" Wide Receiver Dez Bryant due to salary cap reasons.
KEY PLAYER ADDITIONS: WR Allen Hurns, WR/RB Tavon Austin, WR Deonte Thompson, OT Cameron Fleming, OG Marcus Martin.
KEY PLAYER SUBTRACTIONS: WR Dez Bryant, TE Jason Witten, TE James Hanna, LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Orlando Scandrick.
OFFENCE: With the losses of both Witten and Bryant, there is clearly a changing of the guard. This is now Dak Prescott's team, although it will still go as far as Ezekiel Elliott running game takes them behind that monster offensive line. The passing game will be a lot more of a receiver-by-committee approach with Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns who they brought in from Jacksonville and rookie Michael Gallup who they took in the 3rd Round of this year's draft. They may not have a clear-cut number one wideout but may not need one the way Prescott likes to spread the ball around. The retirement of both Witten and James Hanna will also lead to a committee approach at Tight End as well, with Geoff Swaim and Rico Gathers pressed into more playing time. Connor Williams was drafted in the 2nd Round to fill the hole at Left Guard, keeping La'el Collins at Right Tackle to go with former Pro-Bowlers Tyron Smith at Left Tackle, Center Travis Frederick and Right Guard Zack Martin.
DEFENCE: Every area of this side of the ball could be much improved in 2018. Starting up front on the defensive line, with ends Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence they are getting a reinforcement in the middle with the return of Randy Gregory from a year-long suspension to go with Maliek Collins and David Irving. At linebacker they have replaced Anthony Hitchens in the middle with the drafting of Leighton Vander Esch with their 1st Round pick, moving Jaylon Smith to the strong side with Sean Lee as usual on the weak side (assuming he can stay healthy as this is a completely different defence with him on the field). The secondary is very young and talented, built very well through the draft in the past couple of years with Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones and Anthony Brown at Cornerback with Xavier Woods at Free Safety and Jeff Heath at Strong Safety with Kavon Frazier trailing them.
SPECIAL TEAMS: In a surprise move, longtime reliable Place Kicker Dan "The Man" Bailey was released for salary cap reasons in favor of the cheaper, former CFL-er Brett Maher. Punter Chris Jones is back again as one of the best. Tavon Austin, who came over from the Los Angeles Rams will be their main return man and could give the Cowboys a game-breaking kickoff and punt returner. There really should not be any major concerns here, as this unit usually does its job of giving both the offence and defence great field position, particularly when they need it the most in divisional games of the NFC East, which a lot of times can make the difference of winning and losing those games.
FINAL ANALYSIS: The Cowboys looking back may have not been as good as their 13-3 record said they were in 2016, but there is no question they were better than the 9-7 record they had last year in 2017. With no Dez or Witten, they will miss their production and leadership. There will be pressure on Dak and Zeke to start carrying this team, as well as both to start taking more of a leadership role as it is now their team. With an improved defence where sky is the limit, these 2 young stars will have that big offensive line in front of them to do some special things in 2018. If they can piece together the "committee" and execute who will be catching the ball they should be fine. Expect the unexpected because unlike last year, where they were coming off a good season with high expectations then did not live up to them, the expectations are relatively low giving them some breathing room to play with less pressure . It says here that they finish somewhere in the middle of where they were the last two seasons.
2018 PREDICTION: 11-5 with a Wild Card Berth.