The Dallas Cowboys have missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons and have posted a 22-26 record during this span. Owner Jerry Jones has already said he doesn't "want to go 8-8" again, so the pressure is on head coach Jason Garrett to win in 2013.
Last season, the Cowboys were doomed by a combination of injuries, turnovers, an inconsistent running game and a defense that gave up the most yards in team history. The offseseason brought about both personnel and coaching staff changes, as 73-year-old Monte Kiffin was hired to replace Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Kiffin is switching the Cowboys from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme, which means several players will be in new positions this season.
Jones signed quarterback Tony Romo to a six-year, $108 million contract extension, so this is his team. He has weapons in wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten, but Romo needs a little more help from the running game (31st in the NFL last season), while also cutting down on his own mistakes (19 INTs).
Can Garrett and Romo win enough games during the season to have a shot at making the playoffs? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Dallas Cowboys' 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
New York Giants
at Kansas City
at San Diego
at New Orleans
at New York Giants
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This will be the most scrutinized coaching staff in the NFL in 2013. Jason Garrett has had multiple chances to cap a year with a win and a playoffs berth. Yet, both times, the Cowboys came up short. The offensive line and secondary have been reworked over the last few seasons and appear to be improving finally. However, a shift to the 4-3 scheme on defense and a peculiar play-calling tension between Jerry Jones, Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan gives this team plenty of drama to contend with. Tony Romo is a vastly underrated quarterback who has been given little help along the way. So as long as Jones is meddling with his roster and coaching staff, this team won't compete for a Super Bowl. And will miss the playoffs once again in 2013.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With the Cowboys missing out on the playoffs for the last three seasons, this is a make-or-break year for coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys have the necessary pieces to win the NFC East, but also plenty of question marks. Quarterback Tony Romo needs to cut down on his mistakes, and he needs help from an offensive line that is still searching for help at guard this offseason. I’m skeptical about the hire of Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator, especially as Dallas is trying to transition back to the 4-3. The schedule isn’t too challenging, and with plenty of question marks surrounding the Eagles, Giants and Redskins, the Cowboys will have a shot at the wild card if they don’t win the division. I think Dallas is in the mix for the wild card, but if the defense struggles to transition to the 4-3, the Cowboys will slip back to 8-8 and Garrett will be on his way out.
Pretty much everyone that wears a blue star on their helmet is on the hot seat this season, although the warmest seat by far belongs to Jason Garrett. He needs to lead his team to no worse than a 9-7 mark, and even then I'm not sure that will be enough, especially if it means the Cowboys miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Dallas wasn't a horrible team last season, the Cowboys just made too many self-inflicted mistakes on offense and gave up entirely too many yards on defense. Both of these areas can be "fixed," but the defense's job will be a lot harder with the shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3. The schedule's manageable, but drawing Denver, Green Bay and New Orleans places even more emphasis on the division. I think the Cowboys are good enough to post a winning record, but given the landscape of the NFC, the only way 9-7 gets them in the playoffs is if they win the NFC East. The last time Dallas finished better than .500 in divisional play was 2009, which coincidentally also was the last time the Cowboys won the NFC East and went to the postseason.
Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN), New York Daily News
In critical year for both coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Tony Romo, the Cowboys are in an interesting spot — too talented to completely collapse, but probably not talented enough to be anything but a fringe contender. A rough early schedule makes things even more perilous — especially considering the amount of offensive powerhouses their questionable defense will have to stop. In the division alone the Cowboy' defense will have its hands full. Romo alone is good enough to win plenty of games, but everyone knows how erratic he can be. That will keep Dallas around .500 and probably just outside the playoff chase.
Charean Williams (@NFLCharean), Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The Cowboys don’t look much different on paper than they did last season… or the previous season. Could it mean another 8-8 finish? The hope is in their division, the worst in the NFC. They need to sweep Philadelphia again, and sweep either Washington or the Giants — while splitting with the other — to go 5-1 in the division and get to nine victories and the playoffs. The schedule looks favorable for a strong start. It is the first time since 2007 that the Cowboys have kicked off a season at home, and, in fact, they began 2011 and 2012 with back-to-back road games. It should be noted, however, that they are 0-4 against the Giants at home since AT&T Stadium, formerly known as Cowboys Stadium, opened. It is the first time since 2009 that the Cowboys have finished at home. The last two years their playoff hopes came down to a road game at a division opponent, with losses at the Giants in 2011 and at the Redskins in 2012 keeping Dallas out of the postseason. This season, the Cowboys get Philadelphia at AT&T Stadium to close out the season. If it comes down to that game, with a playoff berth on the line, count the Cowboys in.
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