Am I wearing rose-colored glasses? Maybe, but I'm predicting the Cowboys go 11-5 next year and Romo exorcises a big monkey off his back by earning a playoff win. Here's the rationale for my prediction for this season and why I'm sticking by it.
First, a brief reminder of the seven losses in 2008.
- The loss to Super Bowl contender Arizona came on botched special teams plays. Arizona opened the game with a TD return on the kickoff, and the winning score was a blocked punt that took our punter out of action for the year.
- The Redskins won by two points in Texas Stadium.
- The Rams beat us up with help from Brad Johnson's three interceptions.
- The loss to the Giants in New York was aided by three INTs from Johnson and Brooks Bollinger.
- The Steelers came from behind with help from Romo's three interceptions and one fumble.
- The Ravens got two INTs, and two long TD runs in the last minutes of the fourth quarter, to clinch a victory.
- The Eagles gave us a beat down after five Cowboy turnovers.
A brief look at our team then and now, and the reason for an 11-5 prediction, after the jump.
Running Backs - Last season Felix Jones was under utilized by Jason Garrett and then lost to the hamstring/toe injury. Marion Barber also had a toe injury that affected his level of play. This year we have Felix and Barber back, and we now know that we have yet another weapon in Tashard Choice. I think now that Garrett has a better idea of what he has, he will utilize his weapons more effectively.
Offensive Line - Flozell Adams was playing with a bad wing and Kyle Kosier missed most of the season. The offensive line play last year was, well - offensive. Both players have healed up and with Montrae Holland and Robert Brewster, our new draft pick, we should be adequate at pass blocking and improved at run blocking.
Romo - I'm a fan of Tony Romo but we all know that he puts the ball in jeopardy too many times. He sometimes makes bad decisions and he sometimes takes chances. I'm OK with taking a chance, that's what makes Romo a favorite - let's just cut down on the bad decisions. He's a bright guy and knows what he needs to work on, I'm confident that he will improve in that regard.
Receivers - A big question mark here. We have one of the league's best tight ends in Jason Witten and another tight end who shows flashes of brilliance in Martellus Bennett. Can our current crop of wide receivers produce the numbers we saw last year? That remains to be seen.
Defensive Backs - We made a huge upgrade last year with Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick. Now they have a year's experience under their belt. We added some quality backups and upgraded at the safety position with Gerald Sensabaugh and possibly Michael Hamlin. I believe the value of plugging this safety hole will have a dramatic positive impact on our defense.
Linebackers - While I feel like we got a bit of an upgrade with Keith Brooking, I'll call this a wash. We lost Kevin Burnett and Zach Thomas and picked up Brooking and Jason Williams.
Defensive Line - I'll call this a wash as well. We traded Chris Canty for Igor Olshansky and some will say we lost a backup NT in Tank Johnson but I'm still saying it's even.
Special Teams - Huge upgrade from last year. We have a new coach, our booming punter is back, we still have Nick Folk for FGs. David Buehler can launch kicks out of the end zone and we have some energetic rookies that will help us take advantage of our better field position gained from the kicking game.
A brief justification for my 11 - 5 prediction for 2009
The Cowboys are in one of the toughest divisions in football and despite key injuries and glaring weaknesses in the team last season, the Cowboys managed to split the season with the division rivals.
Our defense will be markedly improved from the added experience gained by Jenkins and Scandrick, and adding Sensabaugh and Mike Hamlin at safety. DeMarcus Ware will be free to do what he does best. Wade Phillips' additional involvement with the defense from training camp on will benefit every player on the defense.
Special teams will be better this year, and as a result of field position improvements, the team should be better. Improved special teams will take pressure off both our offensive and defensive units, putting them in a better position to dominate their phase of the game.
The offense will be designed to prevent Romo's turnovers. He has three horses to hand the ball off to and he has a primary receiver who should win most, if not all, jump balls at the sideline or end zone corner. Romo himself will be working to improve his decisions. No more three turnover games.
I'm basing my 11 - 5 assumption on the idea that we will be good enough as a team on talent to equal our 2008 win total, and feeling confident that the Cowboys have improved the glaring weaknesses that cost them seven victories last year. I think improving enough to pick up two out of the seven games is a conservative estimate.
That's my prediction and I'm sticking with it.