It's been 17 long years since the Dallas Cowboys last lifted the Lombardi Trophy, but their wait will come to an end this season.
You can stop laughing—it really is the year.
Dallas is equipped with its best roster since the glory days of the 90s, featuring one of the best quarterbacks in football, along with the NFL's most influential defensive player, DeMarcus Ware.
There is an abundance of talent on offense, and the defense, after an offseason of repaving the secondary, is ready to blossom.
Competition will be stiff within the division and in the bullishly tough NFC. However, the Cowboys will find a way to claw themselves into playoffs, and they will make some noise this coming January.
Tony Romo may be the most criticized player in the NFL, but there is no doubting his abilities.
Romo has all of the necessary skills to be a top-flight quarterback.
He is instinctive in the pocket, makes quick decisions, has a strong and accurate arm and releases the ball rapidly.
All of these talents came together in 2011, when Romo had his best season to date. He passed for 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns and had a 102.5 passer rating.
Most importantly, he limited his interception total to 10. This bucked the perception that he’s a careless gunslinger who costs his team games.
The Cowboys have plenty of gifted players on offense, and Romo has the ability to distribute the ball successfully to all of them.
Every team that has won a Super Bowl since 2004 has had what pundits consider an "elite signal-caller."
Romo has the numbers to be in that class. This is the year he makes his ascension.
Ware is the most dominant defender in the league.
He sheds linemen like they're plastic balls in a ball pit.
Quarterbacks fear him, and offensive coordinators lose sleep over him.
He changes games with his skills. Ware commands two blockers on almost every play and allows Dallas to do so much on the defensive side of the ball.
He's the best pass-rusher the NFL has seen since Michael Strahan, and he could be the most intimidating player for offenses since Lawrence Taylor roamed the field.
Ware has come close to breaking Strahan's single-season sack record on two occasions.
In 2012, he could shatter it.
It'll be Dallas' second season under the creative Rob Ryan, and he will put Ware in the best position possible to make plays down after down.
This means he'll be wreaking havoc in the backfield all season long, all the while creating lanes for his teammates to get to the QB.
Ware influences the way the game is called and the way it’s played. He is a huge reason the Cowboys will sit atop the division in 2012.
When Romo breaks the huddle, he has a tough choice.
He can hand the ball off to a pair of the most explosive backs in the league—DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones.
He could throw the ball downfield to two supremely talented receivers—Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Or he could look to the ultimate safety net over the middle—Jason Witten.
There really isn't a wrong choice.
Any of those options are capable of breaking off a game-changing play, which is why the Dallas offense is so dangerous.
Plus, it helps that the Cowboys have a QB who puts the ball in the correct spot almost every time.
Sure, there are some flaws that could hold this potential juggernaut back.
Both running backs are injury-prone, Bryant and Austin have been inconsistent and the Cowboys offensive line has been suspect.
However, it's not likely that all of these issues surface at once, which would be the only way that this offense proves to be ineffective.
Last season, the Cowboys secondary was a weakness—and that may be putting it lightly.
Dallas had the 23rd-ranked pass defense in the league.
Even worse, it seemed that in every game they lost, it was the secondary that gave up the back-breaking play.
Corners and safeties are a defense's last line of protection, and the Cowboys secondary just wasn't sufficient in 2011.
Adding talent in the secondary was a major point of emphasis for Dallas this offseason, and it was addressed quickly.
The Cowboys signed one of the best free-agent corners on the market, Brandon Carr, added veteran safety Brodney Pool and made a shocking draft-day trade to snag the top corner in the draft, Morris Claiborne.
Add those players to a former Pro Bowler in Mike Jenkins and a great slot corner in Orlando Scandrick, and Dallas is now a position to have a shutdown secondary.
The NFL has transformed into a pass-happy league, and having a solid secondary is the only way to combat it.
Dallas shouldn’t have any problem doing that in 2012.
Rob Ryan entered Dallas last season with some big talk, but it turned out to be just bluster.
The Cowboys defense finished the year as the 16th-best unit in the league, and it was the defense that couldn't hold leads late in the season.
However, it was a lot to ask of the defense to adjust to Ryan's system in such a short amount of time.
There were no offseason workouts, so Ryan had to install his complex scheme on the fly—the results of which were evident.
Heading into 2012, though, the defense is set up to succeed.
The players will have had a full year to adjust to Ryan's aggressive style and learn the mentally intensive playbook.
Plus, Ryan will now have a defense that is set up to run his encroaching plan of attack.
His system employs tons of complex blitzes that often leave his corners on an island, Last year, they couldn't handle that. Now, with the secondary's influx of talent, Ryan will be able to go full throttle in his calls.
This also means players like Ware and Anthony Spencer will have more opportunities to run rampant in opposing backfields
This defense has the talent to match Ryan's defense philosophy. As a result, the Cowboys won't give up many points this season.
The NFC East is already one of the toughest divisions in football.
Add those games to the other 10 opponents Dallas will face in 2012, and the Cowboys will have one of the most difficult schedules in the league.
While that does sound daunting, facing a brutal schedule has its advantages.
Most notably, it prepares a team for the rigors of the postseason.
Teams that are battle-tested from week to week have an edge when it comes to contests in January, because they know how to grind out games.
This is why teams like the New York Giants launch Super Bowl runs despite mediocre regular seasons.
They may have had their struggles, but those games brought the team together and turned them into champions.
The Cowboys have the opportunity to use their tough schedule to their advantage. They just have to show the mental fortitude to do so.
The Cowboys receive more attention than any other franchise in the US.
In the 90s, they were "America's Team," but for the past decade, a more apt name would be "America's most criticized team."
Not a day goes by that a player or a coach isn't asked about why they haven't won anything, why they’re struggling or why they don't get it done in the clutch.
Even owner Jerry Jones has added fuel to the mounting question marks. Earlier this offseason, he said "Dallas' window was closing,” and it brought about a media firestorm.
This kind of attention has to wear on a group, but as professionals, it also has to motivate them.
These are some of the best athletes in the world, and they have pride—something the Cowboys need to show this year.
The Cowboys have all of the talent needed to win the Super Bowl. They can get it done, too, as long as they show the will and the mental strength to push through the tough times.