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Who Will Be The Cowboys' Next Great Rival?

The future looks bright for the Cowboys, but will that future also feature a new nemesis?

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

There is little doubt that the Cowboys are an ascending team. Powered by what will likely turn out to be a franchise-defining draft in 2016, they took the NFL by storm in 2016 when the rookie combo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott (and plenty others who helped them) led the team to a 13-3 finish. The season ended prematurely in the divisional round of the playoffs, but the Cowboys have all the pieces in place to make them contenders for years to come.

  • Dak Prescott, 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year, looks like the next franchise quarterback.
  • Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing in his rookie season and has the potential to eventually be mentioned in one sentence with Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith.
  • The O-line won the inaugural Offensive Line of the Year Award last year and looks set to power the Cowboys offense for years to come.
  • The offense is playing with eight Pro Bowlers (Witten, Bryant, Morris, Frederick, Martin, T. Smith, Prescott, Elliott) and seven former first-round picks (Bryant, Smith, Frederick, Martin, McFadden, Elliott, Cooper).
  • The defense just got an extreme makeover and could turn into one of the youngest units in the league as the season progresses.

Last week, we asked our readers who they consider the Cowboys' biggest rival today, and the results were a tight race between the Giants (48%) and Eagles (40%), with the Redskins finishing a distant third (12%).

Those three teams will always remain Cowboys rivals simply by virtue of playing in the same division. And the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, despite its low score, used to be one of the biggest in all of sports. In 2005, Sports Illustrated called it the top NFL rivalry of all time and "one of the greatest in sports." Two years later, ESPN ranked it the best rivalry in the NFL.

Outside of the division, the Cowboys had a great rivalry with the 49ers that culminated in three straight NFC Championship Games against each other between 1992-94. In total, the Cowboys have met the 49ers seven times in the postseason, which is as much as the Eagles (four times), Redskins (twice), and Giants (once) combined.

If we assume that the Cowboys are indeed an ascending team, and will be perennial playoff contenders over the next decade or so, who could be the Cowboys' next great rival over the coming years?

The Ringer's Danny Kelly thinks Seahawks-Cowboys could be one of the next great rivalries in the NFL:

These Cowboys aren’t that different from the teams that won multiple Super Bowls in the ’90s: They’re talented and brash with a chip on their shoulder, and they come complete with a circuslike atmosphere.

So what better team to rival Dallas for NFC supremacy than the talented, brash, chip-on-their-shoulder-carrying Seattle squad, complete with its own traveling circus?

The Seahawks and Cowboys didn’t meet each other in the regular or postseason last year (more’s the pity), but their preseason matchup in Seattle not only ultimately ended Tony Romo’s career, but foreshadowed the rise of Zeke and Dak in Dallas. Prescott calmly stepped in against most of Seattle’s first-team defense and played with incredible poise. Prescott handed off to Elliott on a pair of his first few runs as a pro (the former Buckeye made his preseason debut that week), and the future NFL rushing champion announced his arrival in the NFL with a forceful run against Kam Chancellor. The two sides jawed at each other angrily, tensions flared; Prescott capped off his second drive with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten over the outstretched hands of K.J. Wright. It was a sign of what was to come for the Cowboys, and it was the only preseason game I’ve ever seen that had a playoff atmosphere.

Imagine a game that matters between these squads. It will feature two of the premier teams in the NFC, and beyond all the parallels — from their never-ending supply of big personalities, their shared affection for smashmouth football, or the fact they’re both led by former midround wunderkind quarterbacks — there are great schematic matchups everywhere on the field. The NFL needs Round 2 of the Chancellor-Elliott bout — the Seahawks’ big-hitting safety said afterward that “if it was a full game, it would have been a bloodbath.”

These two teams meet in Dallas during Week 16 for a Christmas Eve game that’s sure to have playoff implications, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if they have a rematch in the postseason. This season could signal the start of a beautiful rivalry.

The one playoff game between the Seahawks and Cowboys was the botched-snap game. Other teams have met the Cowboys much more frequently in the playoffs. The Packers and Rams lead all teams with eight playoff games against the Cowboys, the Vikings are tied with the 49ers at seven. But does that make them potential future rivals?

In his look at the potential Cowboys-Seahawks rivalry, Danny Kelly suggests several different criteria that could make a team the Cowboys' next great rival, and here are the three that stood out to me:

  1. A contender
  2. A young franchise quarterback
  3. Swagger: a "brash" team with big personalities

In the NFC East, the Giants are always a tough opponent, but with 36-year old Eli Manning on the tail end of his career, the team currently doesn't have the look of the next great rival. The Redskins and Eagles both have young quarterbacks, and while only one of them (Kirk Cousins) is good, the other (Carson Wentz) still offers some measure of hope that he can become good. But are either of the two teams contenders?

Outside of the division, the Packers feel like they could have the makings of a great rivalry, but that rivalry hasn't really taken off, even if the last two postseason matchups would have been a great opportunity for that. In the rest of the NFC North, the Bears have a storied history and would potentially make for good rivals, but they have a lot of stuff to figure out before that happens, just as the Lions and Vikings will have to figure out if they will ever be contenders.

In the NFC South, the Buccaneers and Panthers both have young QBs in Jameis Winston and Cam Newton, but neither team feels like it has the type of swagger that would make for a good rivalry. In New Orleans, the 38-year old Drew Brees doesn't fit the young QB idea, which leaves the Falcons as a potential next great rival, even if it's not a team that stands out with a lot of big personalities.

37-year old Carson Palmer takes Arizona out of the running in the NFC West, Dan Kelly has already written about the Seahawks, and the 49ers and Rams don't look like they'll be contenders anytime soon.

The final possibility is an intra-conference rivalry. The Cowboys and Steelers had a strong rivalry in the 70s, but the days of the Doomsday Defense and the Steel Curtain are long gone. The problem with these intra-conference rivalries is that unless the two teams meet in the Super Bowl, they only play each other once every four years, and that game is likely to be no more critical than any of the other regular season games. Having said that, the Oakland Raiders look like a team that meets all three criteria outlined above, and a Cowboys-Raisers Super Bowl matchup currently has 12-1 odds, the best for any Super Bowl matchup not involving the Patriots.

So there you have it. The Seahawks and Falcons, maybe the Eagles or Redskins, and possibly the Raiders. Which of these do you think will be the Cowboys' next great rival over the coming years?

Poll

Over the next decade or so, who will be the Cowboys' next great rival?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Seahawks
    (530 votes)
  • 13%
    Falcons
    (191 votes)
  • 4%
    Redskins
    (61 votes)
  • 25%
    Eagles
    (376 votes)
  • 20%
    Raiders
    (301 votes)
1459 votes total Vote Now