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What ESPN’s FPI projection system says about the 2021 Dallas Cowboys

There is good news and bad news in this latest Cowboys projection.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Coach Mike McCarthy Press Conference Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Even though it feels like there has been so much going on with the Dallas Cowboys, we are actually still a month away from anything that is officially on the record. The Cowboys open their season on Sept. 9th versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Until then, we have training camp, preseason games, roster cutdown, and projections/predictions to entertain us.

Today, we look at ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) model which projects many things about a football team by running simulations. Here is a brief explanation of how it works.

The model determines forward-looking strength ratings for every team based on a variety of factors, including team win total, projected starting quarterback, returning starters and past performance on offense, defense and special teams. FPI then uses those ratings to simulate the season 20,000 times to create projections.

Ok, that’s a lot of information and we’ll just have to trust that they are mixing the ingredients well. Because if they are, and their model has any connection to reality, then the Dallas Cowboys will most likely win the NFC East.

It took just seven wins for Washington to top the NFC East last season, and FPI still doesn’t think much of the division a year later. The only team in the division with a positive FPI rating — making it above average — is the Dallas Cowboys, who are just barely there at +0.7 (meaning they would be favored over an average NFL team by less than a point).

With quarterback Dak Prescott back and the possibility of an offensive line returned to full strength, the Cowboys are the division favorites with a 45% shot to win it. Washington, despite being the reigning champ and making an improvement at quarterback in the form of Ryan Fitzpatrick, is second (29%), followed by the Giants (15%) and Eagles (11%).

Again, FPI doesn’t think the division is much-improved. And that’s embodied by an extreme result: The NFC East is the only division that recorded a simulation with a five-win champion. In one of our 20,000 sims, the Eagles took the crown at 5-11-1. That doesn’t even sound like a real record, let alone a division winner.

This model has the Cowboys as the prohibitive favorite over their NFC East brethren. As noted, given the condition of the division, winning it isn’t really the greatest of feats, but any Cowboys fan would take it. The model also sees the Cowboys record as most likely 9-8 (it’s going to take a while to get used to a 17-game season).

The model also suggests that when you add in the possibility of making the playoffs through a wild-card slot, in addition to winning the division, the Cowboys playoff chances go up to 57%. If any team from the NFC Est wins a wild-card slot, it means the division has significantly improved over last year.

But what all Cowboys fans really want is a Super Bowl championship. Just how likely is that? FPI gives the Cowboys a 6% chance of making the Super Bowl, and a 2.5% chance of winning it.

So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

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