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Lowered Expectations for the '09 Cowboys?

After finishing 13-3 and claiming the NFC East crown in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys entered 2008 shouldering the weight of enormous expectations. Although the Cowboys had not won a playoff game in more than a decade, most analysts viewed the Cowboys as a lock to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Even the New York Giants, who had disposed of the Cowboys on their way to a world championship, were widely considered an afterthought in the NFC playoff picture.

The Cowboys started strong in 2008. A 3-0 start even invoked the wildly premature whispers of a perfect season. We all know the story too well. Injuries and overall self-destruction would eventually sink the Cowboys’ battleship. The Cowboys finished 9-7, and closed the season on the receiving end of a disgraceful 44-6 beat-down at the hands of division rival Philadelphia.

The Cowboys’ most prolific offensive playmaker Terrell Owens is now a Buffalo Bill. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has yet to prove that he can match wits with the likes of Jim Johnson, Rex Ryan, or Dick LeBeau when it counts. Tony Romo still has a penchant for putting the football on the turf, and into enemy hands. The team as a whole has turned in sub-par efforts in big spots, and transformed the December slide from a coincidence to an annual occurrence. All things considered, will the media still find a way to ratchet up expectations in Big D?

The Cowboys can not at this point be considered favorites in the NFC East.

After winning the division and claiming the NFC’s top seed, the New York Giants were major players in free agency. The Giants added depth to an already stout defensive line by adding former Cowboy Chris Canty, and former Seahawk Rocky Bernard. They also added a playmaker at linebacker (former Falcon Michael Boley) and a probable starter at safety (former Texan C.C. Brown). Impute the fact that New York will get back it’s best defensive player Osi Umenyiora (missed ‘08 due to injury), and the Giant defense looks better than ever. The Giants still need to find a viable replacement for the recently released Plaxico Burress, but have inquired about the Cardinals’ Anquan Boldin, and the Browns’ Braylon Edwards.

The Eagles are still the Eagles. Every year is supposed to be the year that the Eagles fall into the NFC East basement, but they never do. The primary reason for the Eagles’ sustained success is the magnificent job they have done on draft day. The Eagles have two 1st round selections this year, and if history tells us anything, we know that they will make them count. Donovan McNabb has a chip on his shoulder, and that is never a good thing if you are a fan of any team other than Philadelphia.

Washington spent a lot of money…as usual. However, unless this team finds an identity (on both sides of the ball) and gets some consistent production from the quarterback position, they will underachieve…as usual.

The Cowboys just have too many question marks to have astronomic expectations, don’t they? Can Tony Romo turn it around? Did Jason Garrett just have a sophomore slump? Can Miles Austin supply the big plays that Terrell Owens made? Can the offensive line find their groove again? Is Roy Williams a #1 receiver? Does Keith Brooking have anything left in the tank? Is Mike Jenkins ready to start? Will the players take Wade Phillips seriously in the last year of his contract?

Playoff teams, let alone championship teams seldom have such a laundry list of “ifs” heading into a new season.

Still, this is America’s team. This is Jerry Jones. This is a billion dollar stadium, with a 60-yard jumbotron, and the quarterback dates celebrities. Of course the media will find a way to cram the Cowboys into that pressure cooker, whether they fit or not.

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