The Dallas Cowboys were picked by many to be the NFC representative in the Super Bowl in 2008, but once again I had no idea why and was right in my thoughts.
“America’s Team” was everything but a team, even though they were one of the most talented Cowboys teams in the last few years. The offense struggled, as there was no unity. Some question if maybe Tony Romo’s head was somewhere else; it sure wasn't there when the Cowboys needed it.
Take Philly's beat down in the last game of the season, for example. This catapulted the Eagles into the playoffs and left the Cowboys sitting in front of their televisions.
Tony Romo no longer has T.O. around to blame for his mess-ups, and Jessica Simpson is off playing Daisy Duke somewhere else. He should be all football all the time now and reports from camp say it’s working as he has built a stronger connection with his receiving core. He has a strong arm, and usually makes the right decision when the ball leaves his hand. It's time for him to be the leader, control his team, and maybe even get the Cowboys’ first playoff win of the new millennium.
The running backs need to be the strength of the offense this year. Marion Barber is a No. 1 back, but his season was cut short by injury. He should come back as that explosive back everyone saw two years ago.
Felix Jones couldn't be stopped by a defender in the four or five games he played, so his leg did the job for them. He could be the starter by the start of the season. The savior last season was Tashard Choice, as he didn't miss a step with his agility and power. The Cowboys will undoubtedly find a place for his explosiveness and skill.
Tight end Jason Witten is the most reliable receiver on the team. He has great size and runs great routes. He is ready to carry the load in the Owensless offense and finally take the team to a second playoff game.
The receiving core is one of the most talented in the NFC, but it has to go out and show it. Owens is no longer around, so it will be up to Roy Williams to fill the roll. Williams has been criticized as not truly being a No. 1 receiver, but the quarterbacks in Detroit weren't exactly Pro Bowl caliber. I believe he will show he is worth the first, third, and fifth round picks given up for him.
The supporting cast will be vital this year, as T.O. is no longer around getting more than 50 percent of the passes. Patrick Crayton has to show he can be the No. 2 as he is usually reliable, but he dropped a couple key passes last year that killed pivotal drives.
Miles Austin is the one everyone’s looking at to break out and be a key contributor to the team. He has the size and speed, but can he be consistent throughout the season? Then there’s the outside shot in the reality series "4th and Long" winner Jessie Holly. He has size, durability, and showed that he can make the big catch when needed.
The offensive line is a true Dallas line, the average height is 6’6, but they do not dominate anyone. The line has many Pro Bowl caliber players like Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis, and Andre Gurode. Too many times last season, the last game against Philly in particular, the mammoth line was pushed around. These giants were pushed around like rookies, and now they are just more banged up. It's time they do more than just look big.
The defense was great last season. The unit as a whole was a pass rushing machine, but it lost a lot of parts during the offseason. The defensive line will still be the strength of the team, as Spears and Ratliff will take on the whole line if need be.
The linebackers lost Zach Thomas and Greg Ellis, but Keith Brooking was added, and still has one more good year left in him. Also, the linebackers are still led by the league’s leading pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, who will still haunt opposing quarterbacks in their sleep.
Then there’s the secondary, which lost a key guy in Anthony Henry. It will be up to Terence Newman and Ken Hamlin to put the secondary in its place.
The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1995, and didn't reach the playoffs last season due to one main reason: no leadership.
Tony Romo hasn't been the leader he has needed to be since becoming starter, and the team has suffered. The team falls apart in December every year since Romo came, and last year was no different. This year needs to be different, for Romo especially, since another year like last season might define him as a quarterback for the rest of his years.
Tony Romo is a No. 1 quarterback and with all the time he has spent in football during the offseason he should have one of his best seasons yet.
Marion Barber is a top back, but with the way Felix Jones has been looking in camp and last season, he may become the third down back and Jones the No. 1.
Roy Williams is the No. 1 receiver and could have a career year as he will see most of the attention from a Pro Bowl quarterback.
Jason Witten is the best tight end in the league, and should reestablish himself again this year as he will see more touches with the absence of T.O.
The defense should be one of the best, especially since it will get at the quarterback. Ware will once again be the best and come close to 20 sacks.
Nick Folk is a top kicker, as the Dallas offense will score. He is very accurate and should be top three by season’s end.
The sleeper is not Austin, but Crayton. He will be more involved, and he'll probably get between 900-1,000 yards and four touchdowns.
Prediction: 9-7, Third place NFC East