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Football Outsiders believes the Cowboys will contend with the Eagles in 2018

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It won’t be a runaway in the NFC East according to Football Outsiders.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Like every year, we’re going to talk a little with Football Outsiders about the Dallas Cowboys, utilizing their 2018 Almanac as a starting point. The FO Almanac is an awesome resource for any football fan, not only can you learn about the Cowboys, but all the other teams in the NFL and even some college stuff. Go ahead and pick up a copy if you’re so inclined.

The first part of our discussion deals with a little prediction they made about who will win the NFC East. To our surprise, it wasn’t necessarily the Philadelphia Eagles.

Blogging The Boys: You write that you rate the Cowboys “as slight favorites to win the NFC East.” Can you give some reasons why you favor the Cowboys over the Eagles?

Football Outsiders: Full disclosure: that statement was written in an early draft of the Cowboys chapter and should have been tweaked in the editing process. It would be more accurate to say that we have Philadelphia and Dallas neck-and-neck going into the season -- the full NFL projections listed elsewhere in the book have the Cowboys and Eagles with 9.1 projected wins each. I’m guessing that will still leave Dallas fans happy considering their team missed the playoffs last year while the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Why do we think the race will be so close? The short answer is that we think both teams will play more like they did in 2016 than in 2017. The Cowboys should benefit from full seasons of Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, and we think Dak Prescott will bounce back from the slump he had in the second half of last season. The defensive front seven also has lots of potential, with young playmakers all over the place. Philadelphia’s issues will be covered in-depth at Bleeding Green Nation, but teams that get a lot better from one season to the next usually decline in Year 3.

That’s interesting. Not sure what exactly changed between the early draft and the published version, but it is still surprising that they have the Cowboys as neck-and-neck with the Eagles for the NFC East. That is a prediction that goes against the grain as most publications/websites reflexively put the Eagles at the top.

As we continue our discussion with FO throughout this week, we’ll be debating some of the stuff they write about the Cowboys. But we have to admit, we’re in agreement with this evaluation, not necessarily in terms of the prediction although Cowboys fans will like that, but more in terms of why Dallas should be an improved team. Obviously no suspension for Zeke is a big thing, and if Tyron Smith stays healthy that is surely going to improve the Cowboys offense. While FO also predicts the Dak Prescott will bounce back from his second-half slump of last year, we say if Zeke and Tyron wouldn’t have had their issues last season, there probably wouldn’t have been a second-half slump for Prescott.

On the Philadelphia side, props to them for what they accomplished in 2017, but they certainly had some statistical miracles that are likely to regress towards the mean. Their third-down efficiency, as described by FO, was historic and likely unsustainable. They will still be a formidable team, but they might not be as good record-wise as last season opening the door for Dallas is they can get back to their play of 2016.

The last interesting thing to note out of this conversation is the win total - 9.1 wins. Think about that for a second. Last year the Cowboys went 9-7 and everybody thought the season was a total disappointment. As our own OCC noted, projecting win totals in the preseason is a tricky business, and most models tend to cluster win totals around the middle 7-9 wuns range. It’s doubtful both the Cowboys and Eagles get only nine wins. Let’s just hope it’s the Cowboys who surpass it by a comfortable margin.