The Dallas Cowboys have won the NFC East crown a historic 24 times since their inception in the 1960 season. That’s impressive but it’s even more impressive that the Dallas franchise has made a playoff appearance in 33 seasons over their 60 years in the NFL. With all the Cowboys’ acclaimed successes, it’s crazy to think that the last time Dallas repeated in the division was in 1996. At that time, the Cowboys were the standard-bearers in the NFL, having won their division five straight years (1992-1996).
More recently, the Cowboys under Jason Garrett have won three of the last five division titles but have yet to represent the NFC East in back-to-back seasons. In fact, the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles were the last NFC East team to repeat in the division. The NFC East is living proof of how much parity there is around the National Football League. However, the 2019 season just might be ripe for the picking by Dallas. It just might be that year that the Cowboys end over two decades of inconsistency and knock-down the front door to re-join the elite teams at the grown-up’s table. Why so confident in the Cowboys chances? We’ll give you five reasons.
5. The front office nailed it with their approach to free agency
For the better part of a decade, the Cowboys have been among the best at drafting and developing homegrown talents. At the same time, they were one the least successful teams in getting production from free agent acquisitions.
This year, Stephen Jones and Will McClay seemed to have found more balance and effectiveness in their free agency approach. Instead of filling roster holes with bargain bin free agents that offered minimal potential, the Cowboys changed it up. Dallas still bargain-shopped but they went after players with high football pedigrees that may have had an injury or other circumstances affecting their earning power. Signings like Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb are perfect examples of players with impact potential without the long-term cost. The Cowboys under Stephen Jones and Will McClay always tread lightly in free agency but there are always ways to manipulate the process and make it work for you. The Cowboys deserve credit for taking calculated risks that can actually make them a much better football team.
4. The Cowboys offensive line is the best unit in the division
Travis Frederick’s return after a year of dealing with Guillain-Barre syndrome is the big story here. With Frederick’s return, the Cowboys offensive line will be back to full-strength, starring three All-Pros at three different positions. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick are arguably the league’s best at their respective positions.
Back-to-back drafts where the Cowboys spend Top-100 picks on Connor Williams and Connor McGovern are both beneficial now and later. Dallas also has a stable of veterans in Looney, Cameron Fleming, and Xavier Su-a-Filo that could be fighting for a starting role on other teams. UDFA Mitch Hyatt is another young talent that is part of their future plans. The Cowboys offensive line is better than any one unit possessed by their divisional foes.
3. The Eagles’ cornerbacks have potential but are still a big question-mark
Last year, Philly’s secondary was ravaged by injury with multiple guys ending up on injured reserve. The Cowboys took full advantage of a weakened Eagles secondary in their two outings, both wins by Dallas. In two victories, Dak Prescott completed 76% of his passes for 670+ yards, four touchdowns, and only two interceptions. Two outings against the Eagles tallied 17% of Prescott’s season total for passing yards. The Eagles’ front is a matchup nightmare for any quarterback and Philly sacked Prescott seven times in 2018. Dak still had a 104 passer rating despite pass protection issues.
Though the Eagles are excited about welcoming back their wounded warriors from a season ago, this is still a relatively unproven group. Ronald Darby will give them a boost if he’s back to full health but he’s landed on IR in two straight seasons. Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Sidney Jones had bright moments but also saw their play tail off at times. There is certainly some potential within this group but durability concerns and consistency errors have them starting behind the curve.
2. Cowboys front-seven makes them among fiercest contenders
We already established how strong the Cowboys’ offensive line is but their defensive front seven is also positioned well. Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee at linebacker is quite the combination. For the past few seasons, DeMarcus Lawrence has a made a leap into one of the league’s premier pass rushers and he was handsomely rewarded this offseason. As good as Tank Lawrence is, every great pass rusher needs a little help from time to time and that was an area of concern at the start of the offseason.
David Irving flew the coop and bashed both the NFL and Cowboys on his way out. Randy Gregory was coming off a six-sack season but now faces another reinstatement hearing after being suspended indefinitely several months back. Tyrone Crawford’s uncharacteristically bad night at the club has him facing a potential suspension.
The Cowboys wasted little time repairing the depth of their defensive line. The front office traded for former Pro Bowler Robert Quinn to pair with Lawrence on the edge. Like Gregory, Quinn is the prototypical right end with speed and tremendous bend. The Cowboys signed two veteran rotational pieces in Kerry Hyder and Christian Covington. Dallas also spent their highest draft capital on defensive tackle Trysten Hill to join forces with Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods.
The Eagles have reigned supreme in front seven talent for several years, lead by perennial All-Pro Fletcher Cox. However, the Cowboys got a a huge boost and closed that gap by a decent margin.
1. Believe it or not - Dallas has less concerns at quarterback than New York, Philadelphia, and Washington
The Dak Prescott vs. Carson Wentz argument of who’s better will never die. One area that you cannot argue is on the quarterback who has been more dependable. The most important ability in the NFL is often availability. Wentz’s amazing MVP-caliber 2017 season ended in the latter part of the schedule, one that ended with a Super Bowl run for the team. His health continued to be an issue this past year as well. Dak is as durable as they come but so is Eli Manning, that’s when trust and dependability come into play. Since Dak and Wentz entered the division, Manning is 19-28 as a starter and has thrown 40 interceptions.
Dak is 32-16 on 48 starts while Wentz is 23-17 on 40 starts. Both Prescott and Wentz are better than any other passer in the NFC East by a mile.
Washington should feel pretty good about their future being in the hands of rookie Dwayne Haskins, but he still is a rookie. Between Case Keenum and Colt McCoy, Washington has an effective bridge to the future but neither guy is dynamic enough to help much in the present.
Argue until the cows come home about the ability or lack of abilities possessed by Dak Prescott if you must, but the numbers favor the Cowboys quarterback since 2016. Presscott has the better completion percentage, the better passer rating, more yards per attempt, more rushing yards by almost double anyone else, has accounted for 85 touchdowns, has thrown less interceptions, and has more wins as a starter to boot. The Cowboys may not have the prolific air-it-out passer, racking up gaudy numbers, and throwing the prettiest spiral on every attempt but they do have a guy that knows how to win football games.
Just a quick recap: Dak Prescott is 13-5 against his divisional opponents for those keeping count. Both the Cowboys and Eagles have built impressive rosters but Dallas just might have a slight advantage in depth. Ultimately, that’s what gives the Cowboys the biggest edge to repeat as NFC East champs for the first time since 1996.