Earlier this offseason we had Football Outsiders' preliminary projection for the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 season, a 10-6 record and winning the NFC East. Today, another stats based site, Pro Football Focus, has come out with their 2016 projections and the results are very similar for the Cowboys. Based on their rankings the Cowboys would win the NFC East since they come in one spot ahead of Washington in the NFC even though they sport the same projected record.
Dallas is ranked sixth in the NFC. The top five teams in the NFC according to PFF are: Arizona Cardinals (12-4), Seattle Seahawks (12-4), Carolina Panthers (11-5), Green Bay Packers (11-5) and the Minnesota Vikings (10-6).
Then comes Dallas:
6. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
The Cowboys are the highest risers in the NFC for some obvious—and some not-so-obvious—reasons. On offense, they bring back a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, as well as rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott. In 2014, when things were running smoothly, Bryant had a yards per route run of 2.67, fifth-best among wide receivers. In 2015, that fell to a below-average 1.36. The less-obvious reason is that they should improve on defense as well, even without Greg Hardy. Their top cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, is also returning from injury. In 2014, he was one of four cornerbacks with zero touchdowns allowed, at least two interceptions, and at least five passes defended. The team also added Cedric Thornton to play defensive tackle—he instantly becomes their best run-defender at the position, with a PFF grade of 81.1 in that regard last year.
The rest of the NFC East: 7th Washington (9-7), 9th New York Giants (8-8), 11th Philadelphia Eagles (6-10).
This coincides with the Football Outsiders projection and my own initial reaction when the schedule came out. As constructed, the Cowboys roster has enough talent to be the favorite in the NFC East. One observer rated the Cowboys as having the 10th most-talented roster in the NFL. If the Cowboys can avoid the debilitating injuries they faced in 2015, they should be able to, at minimum, return to playoff status. The question is can they be more than that? Can they be the 2014 team, but go even further?
The two biggest uncertainties in my mind are Tony Romo and the pass rush. Romo is aging and has suffered a variety of injuries over the last few years. But mixed into that was a stellar 2014 season when he was basically the best quarterback in the league. If that's the Tony Romo we get in 2016, then the Cowboys ceiling is indeed very high.
The other problem is the pass rush. In the playoff game in 2014 against the Packers, the Dez Bryant catch/non-catch was a big factor, but the Cowboys inability to get any pressure on a hobbled Aaron Rodgers might have been an even bigger issue. They have to create more pressure this season.
You give me a 2014 version of Romo, with a decent pass rush, and the 2016 Cowboys can contend - for it all.