Jerry Jones is still a regular presence in the headlines and Jason Garrett returns for another pressure-packed season as head coach but it’s hard not to think that this year’s edition of the Dallas Cowboys marks the start of a new era for the franchise. Tony Romo and Jason Witten are both calling the team’s games from the booth instead of playing in them. Wide receiver Dez Bryant is long gone and putting more distance between the Star and himself every day. Other veterans like Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick have moved on too.
As a result, the Cowboys in 2018 are firmly about their budding new core of players that have been drafted and developed. Dak Prescott hopes to rebound after a minor sophomore slump and Ezekiel Elliott looks primed to return to his rookie form after suspension drama cost him six games. DeMarcus Lawrence hopes to parlay his monster 2017 season (14.5 sacks) into a similar monster, long-term contract.
How all this unfolds on the field remains to be seen. The Cowboys have only two postseason appearances (with a single win) since Garrett took over eight years ago and just saw their division rival win the Super Bowl. The pressure is certainly on in"Big D" to find wins and make some noise in the very crowded NFC that is full of contenders.
The talent is certainly there, but will the wins follow? Athlon Sports asked several experts to share their predictions for just how the Cowboys season will play out and what the team’s record will be when all is said and done.
Dallas Cowboys Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Rob Doster (@AthlonDoster)
Dak Prescott survived his sophomore slump — if you can call a winning record and 28 TDs a slump — and he looks poised to lead the Cowboys back to the playoffs. The departure of Dez Bryant could be addition by subtraction; Prescott likes to share the wealth, and he may thrive with a bunch of No. 2s instead of a No. 1 who tends to pout if he doesn’t receive an adequate number of targets. The key, though, will be a rejuvenated running game. Playing a full 16-game schedule behind a line that’s eager to atone for a subpar 2017, Ezekiel Elliott could lead the NFL in rushing and lead the Cowboys back to the postseason. That’s Jason Garrett’s hope, anyway; if things fall apart and the ’Boys are sitting home in January, Garrett may need to dust off the resume.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The more things change with the Cowboys, the more they remain the same in Dallas. There’s plenty of talent on this roster and the offense should be much more consistent than it was a year ago with a full season of Ezekiel Elliott and the resulting pressure that takes off Dak Prescott’s arm. The health of left tackle Tyron Smith could be the difference between a Wild Card bid or another year on vacation in January but the front office made some solid moves to round out the edges of the roster, including a strong draft class. I’m not sure if the team can break through the ceiling in such a tough NFC but the Cowboys can remain in contention for most of the year before fans (and ownership) tire of another solid but unspectacular season with a number of Pro Bowlers.
John Gworek (@JohnGworek)
Obviously, I am not as high on the Cowboys as some. It’s not that I don’t believe in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, I just don’t know that there is enough around them to carry this team to a playoff spot in the ultra-tough NFC. It seems as if the Cowboys' blueprint is similar to that of the Jaguars in the AFC; and while I like Prescott more than Blake Bortles, the Dallas defense is not nearly as dominant as Jacksonville’s. Even when Elliott wasn’t suspended last season, the defense gave up 35 or more points three times in a four-week stretch, which left the Cowboys chasing the pack all season. I’d be stunned if they are any better than last season’s 9-7, and in the NFC that’s good for an early offseason.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
Dallas' offense is certainly going to look and function differently with Jason Witten now in the broadcast booth and Dez Bryant seeking a fresh start with a new team. While having Ezekiel Elliott for a full 16 games will help, there is still plenty of uncertainty when it comes to who else will emerge as a playmaker. In fact, the same can be said for the defense. Yes, DeMarcus Lawrence did his part with 14.5 sacks last season, but the defense produced just 10 interceptions and saw its No. 2 tackler depart in free agency. Sean Lee will have to stay healthy or this unit could fall apart. Dallas is a good team but that may not be enough to get into the playoffs, something that's become a familiar refrain under Jason Garrett.