Dallas Cowboys Clinch NFC East: Latest Comments and Reaction

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys carries the ball in the first half of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys went from worst to first in the course of one season, and they have two rookies to thank.

Dallas clinched the NFC East title Thursday night by virtue of the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-19 win over the New York Giants. The Cowboys also clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye.

The campaign appeared to be a disastrous one right from the start, as Tony Romo suffered a fracture in his back during the preseason. Cowboys fans could be forgiven if they gave up on the team's playoff hopes considering Romo suffered injuries last year and played in just four games while Dallas collapsed on the way to a 4-12 record and last-place finish.

However, a couple of rookies rescued the Cowboys' season and made them the best team in the NFC in the process.

Quarterback Dak Prescott took over for Romo and earned the starting job even when the incumbent starter was ready to return to the field. Prescott can make plays with his legs and arm while targeting receivers such as Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley, which has helped keep Dallas afloat without its longtime quarterback.

NFL Research and ESPN Stats & Info illustrated the impressive pace the Mississippi State product was on to start his career:

Incredibly, Prescott may not even be the best rookie in his own backfield. Running back Ezekiel Elliott has lived up to all the hype that accompanied him as the No. 4 overall pick out of Ohio State because of a rare combination of vision, speed and the ability to break through arm tackles.

Bryant even predicted his teammate would top 2,000 rushing yards and break Eric Dickerson's NFL rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards, per Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram.

Elliott has been bolstered by a physically imposing offensive line that has helped Dallas effectively shorten games and keep its defense on the sideline.

Just making the postseason is a significant step for the Cowboys after missing out in five of the last six years. They have their eyes on the Super Bowl, although they haven't made it beyond the divisional round since the 1995 season, when they won the Lombardi Trophy.

The path is open considering last year's NFC Super Bowl representatives, the 6-8 Carolina Panthers, have struggled all season and fallen out of the playoff picture, let alone the race to repeat as conference champions. So have the 5-8-1 Arizona Cardinals, who lost to the Panthers in last season's NFC Championship Game.

What's more, the traditional powerhouse Green Bay Packers have flirted with mediocrity for much of the season, as they sit at 8-6 heading into Week 16.

That's not to suggest the Cowboys are a lock to reach the Super Bowl, especially after recent postseason struggles, but they discovered a formula for success with Prescott, Elliott and a dominant offensive line.

If the formula continues to work in the postseason, they will win the sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

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