Back in April, CG Technologies in Las Vegas (formerly known as Cantor Gaming), released point-spreads for the first 16 weeks of the 2016 NFL regular season. Week 17 is generally excluded from these early projections due to high variance caused by potential playoff seeding, teams resting their starters or only playing them part-time, etc.
At the time, the Cowboys were projected for nine wins, and that total dropped to eight wins at the start of the season, capping an offseason full of ridicule.
- During free agency, the Cowboys brought in a handful of players most pundits had to look up on Wikipedia - and signed draft megabust Morris Claiborne to an extension.
- Their two designated pass rushers, Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory were both suspended for the first four games. Gregory was subsequently suspended for an extra ten games and now looks to be facing another suspension, this time for a full year.
- On the first day of the draft, instead of drafting Tony Romo's successor or a much-needed cornerback, the Cowboys drafted Elliott way "too high" and used "faulty logic" in adding Elliott to a running back room already crowded with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris.
- Later in the same draft, the Cowboys tried to trade for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook but were foiled both times and eventually settled for Dak Prescott.
- During training camp, in what felt like a comedy of errors, the Cowboys tried to get a backup quarterback (Josh McGown, Nick Foles), and eventually had to settle for Mark Sanchez, but only after he was cut by the Broncos during final cuts.
- One Cowboys-centric blog felt the ESPN NFL power rankings had the Cowboys way overrated at #13 heading into the season and that Dak Prescott was worse than a third string QB.
So much for all of that. An offseason full of ridicule is exactly what many Cowboys fans had to suffer through this year, which makes the Cowboys' performance so far this year so much more satisfying for Cowboys fans.
On Sunday, the Cowboys are heading to Pittsburgh as 3-point underdogs, but our panel of national football writers have their own ideas of who will win the game, and are split down the middle on which team will win the game.
David Steele, Sporting News (7-1)
||24-20||This will be a test of whether the Steelers were victims last week of a rusty Ben Roethlisberger and a conservative game plan, or if they’re really just a .500 team. Yes, it’s against the best team in the NFC, but the Steelers have too much talent on both sides of the ball to be this inconsistent. No one has solved Dak Prescott yet, and the Steelers haven’t yet shown reason to believe they’ll be the ones.|
Sam Farmer, LA Times (6-2)
||27-24||With the way rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are playing, it’s hard to bet against a Cowboys team that has won seven in a row. Steelers are tough but banged up.|
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com (6-2)
||28-24||You can't ask for a better game at this time of year. One team is the best in its conference. The other? The best desperate club, with another loss pushing hopes of the division crown and/or a playoff bye further away. I am having a hard time going against Dak Prescott and a balanced attack versus Pittsburgh's 24th-ranked defense (13th in scoring, though). That said, Le'Veon Bell must be tired of hearing about how lovely Ezekiel Elliott is. The key matchup? Big Ben vs. a depleted Dallas secondary.|
Peter Schrager, Foxsports (5-3)
||37-24||I worked the Cowboys-Browns game a week ago and thought after the first Cleveland scoring drive that maybe — maybe — this was a trap game for Dak Prescott and the young Cowboys. Then, after falling behind 3-0, they came out and blew the doors off Cleveland and left no doubt about their offensive dominance. It’s all about the offensive line, and having seen it up close and personal, I can’t provide enough superlatives to explain how very dominant they are. We all remember The Triplets, but those early-90s Cowboys Super Bowl teams were built up front. So is this one. There’s something special with this team. They’re almost too young and too well coached to have a "trap" game, and I think they rise to the occasion in the big ones like Sunday’s game.|
Chris Simms, Bleacher Report (5-3)
||21-17||Only Ryan Shazier has the talent and strength to disrupt Dallas’ line. Double-team him, and Ezekiel Elliott should still find plenty of holes to gallop through. Pittsburgh must commit more than seven defenders to try to stop him. When it does, Dallas will be ready for a big downfield throw or two...exactly how that Dolphins game turned out.|
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports (5-3)
||30-24||The Cowboys are playing consecutive road games, which is always tough. It's even tougher against a good team coming off a bad loss. I look for Ben Roethlisberger to get back on track here. That will put a lot of pressure on Dak Prescott to keep up. I don't think he will here.|
Michael Smith, Pro Football Talk (5-3)
||23-21||I went back and forth on this one. I think the Cowboys are the better team, but I just have a hunch that they’re due for a letdown while the Steelers are due for a better effort than they showed last week.|
Greg Cote, Miami Herald (5-3)
||30-27||Our brawling Game of the Week committee came to blows this week, with this game ultimately edging Seahawks at Patriots on the fourth tiebreaker, which is rock-paper-scissors. Naw, the real difference? Really strong idea on Pats winning, but not at all sure on this one. Dallas is the real deal and better all-round. But there is something special about Big Ben at home, where Steelers have won seven of past eight by average margin of 14 points. Also gotta like the GOTW mettle of two franchises that have combined to play in 16 Super Bowls and win eight. Cowboys are only team yet to allow an opposing 100-yard rusher or receiver, but Le'Veon Bell or Antonio Brown (or both) should change that. Steelers have dropped three in row. Enough of that.|
Chris Burke, SI.com (4-4)
||24-21||Let’s just get this out of the way: The Pittsburgh Steelers of last week, or of a Week 6 loss to Miami, won’t beat Dallas. The Steelers as they can be—or at least, as they appear on paper—have the offensive chops to pull it off. The first-place Cowboys are still shorthanded in the secondary, without Morris Claiborne (groin) and Barry Church (forearm). An improved, surprising pass rush has helped offset those losses, but they cannot match the Steelers’ weapons if Ben Roethlisberger has time. Pittsburgh was far too conservative in last week’s loss to Baltimore, in which Roethlisberger returned early from a knee injury. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley should have Big Ben firing at will Sunday, assuming the QB is healthy enough to do so. No mystery when Dallas has the ball: Ezekiel Elliott, quick passes and maybe a couple shots downfield. That plan has produced 400-plus yards of offense in six consecutive games.|
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk (3-5)
||24-21||Living most of my life in and around Pittsburgh, I’ve learned three things about the Steelers: (1) when expected to be great, they usually underachieve; (2) when expected to be bad, they typically overachieve; and (3) when facing a quality team at home while wounded, they are dangerous.|
The Cowboys have a chance of improving to 8-1, which would mean they'd have matched their regular season win projection after just nine games.
And everything beyond that is just gravy after an offseason full of ridicule.