As has been noted at other times this offseason, there is certainly a restlessness within the Dallas Cowboys fanbase. Optimism is not overly-abundant. Our own Tom Ryle set out to keep the ships of positivity afloat, and there are also other reasons to keep our heads up concerning America’s Team.
While the Cowboys ended their season in extremely underwhelming fashion and have a litany of changes to go through in the coming months, the good news is that some of the things that they did well can sort of be counted on to repeat next season.
What are those things exactly? Glad you asked.
Football Outsiders has the Dallas Cowboys finishing first in projected DVOA for 2022
There are many Cowboys fan down on their team that point out how weak of a division the team plays in and that Dallas benefits greatly from it, perhaps to the point of establishing a false sense of identity about themselves. There is truth to this whole idea. Thankfully, though, the Cowboys do get to play in the NFC East which means they should pick up some extra wins and have an offense that theoretically should rebound well next season. These are all good things.
Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric is a valuable tool for stripping away the narrative of things and last year they introduced a projection idea that forecast the 2021 season. Obviously it was difficult to project things off of the 2020 season for Dallas given that the sample size with Dak Prescott was so small, but FO had the Cowboys finishing 12th in their projections and they wound up holding the top spot when it was all said and done.
The methodology used for projecting a future season is complicated and well worth your time to understand it all, but these are the high points when it comes to Dallas.
The goal here is basically just to see who looks best for 2022 based mainly on quarterbacks returning from injury and offense being more predictive than defense. The result looks a lot like the 2021 DVOA ratings with a few changes. That means that differences between DVOA and conventional wisdom will be differences here. Dallas, New England, and Seattle are higher than conventional wisdom. Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Atlanta are lower than conventional wisdom.
The big difference between this year and last year is that I also compiled schedule strength based on the way too early projections. The defending champion Rams have the hardest projected schedule. The NFC South is a weak division, but the entire NFC West is in the top 10 and the AFC West is a tough division. The Rams’ other opponents based on finishing in first place are Dallas, Green Bay, and Buffalo: the top three teams in the way too early projections. The Arizona Cardinals also have a particularly tough projected schedule. Every other team has an average opponent projection of 2.0% or lower.
The easiest projected schedule belongs to the Baltimore Ravens. They play the AFC East and NFC South, plus Denver, Jacksonville, and the New York Giants. The Dallas Cowboys also stand out as the only team in the top 10 with a bottom 10 schedule.
Among the things that stand out is the last sentence noting that the Cowboys are the only team in the top 10 with a bottom 10 schedule. Again, thank you NFC East.
Dallas went 6-0 in division last year and while things like that are definitely hard to predict it stands to reason that they should at least pick up 4-5 victories among their rivals. It is also worth mentioning that the division has not had a repeat winner since 2004.
Football Outsiders has the Cowboys finishing first in projected DVOA for 2022 which would obviously be great independent of the subpar competition they face within their division. Here is how they have them finishing on each side of the ball (2021’s ranking):
- Offense: 5th (6th)
- Defense: 2nd (2nd)
- Special Teams: 7th (6th)
For what it’s worth the Cowboys project to have the 29th-hardest schedule of all teams next season, the fourth-easiest. Only the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Carolina Panthers have things easier by FO’s methodology.
All of this sounds great and seems like a team that can snap the NFC East’s drought regarding a repeat champion, but the real measurement of success for the Cowboys next season isn’t going to be winning the division but breaking their own drought of NFC Championship Game appearances. By all measures next season’s team will have the opportunity to do that, but we have heard that story before.
Potential is one thing. Action is another.