Leading up to the start of the 2015 NFL season I will be previewing last year’s playoff teams and their chances for making it back to the postseason
Record: 12-4 (1st, NFC East)
Key additions: Randy Gregory (60th pick, 2015), Byron Jones (27th pick, 2015), La’El Collins (Undrafted FA), Darren McFadden (FA signing from Raiders), Greg Hardy (FA signing from Panthers)
Key losses: Demarco Murray (Free Agency, Eagles)
The Dallas Cowboys were 24-24 between 2011 and 2013. During that stretch they were, to put it kindly, the definition of mediocre.
Then they went 12-4 in 2014. What?
Writers and analysts used to get in trouble when talking about the Cowboys as average because everything about them seemed to point to a team that wasn’t. With a top-10 quarterback (whether you believe Tony Romo is a top-10 quarterback or not, the numbers do not lie), One of the best young receivers in the NFL in Dez Bryant, Demarco Murray proving to be what they thought he would be when they drafted him out of Oklahoma, and it doesn’t get more consistent than Jason Witten at tight end. Those are not mediocre pieces; any of the NFL’s 32 teams would take one, if not all three today.
So why am I not all in on Dallas? Let’s start with the good…
What went right
Jerry Jones took a slight step back and allowed his son, Stephen, to make more personnel decisions. They placed an emphasis on helping their key players on offense by building the best offensive line in the NFL; which in turn led to Demarco Murray leading the league in rushing yards in 2014. They also brought in Rod Marinelli to help the defense and were rewarded as his scheme shaved 80 points off their total allowed in 2013. Tony Romo also had the best statistical season of his career, which came from more of a commitment to the run game. Dallas even followed the season up with a good draft (Byron Jones, Randy Gregory), and savvy free agent signings (La’el Collins? Yes please!).
All great moves. All, seemingly, pointing the Cowboys in the right direction. Soooo…
Why am I skeptical?
Well the key cog of the offensive machine in 2014 (Murray) is now in Philadelphia, a division rival. The addition (Darren McFadden) did not equal the subtraction of Murray, nor does Murray’s backup from 2014 (Joseph Randle). So you will have to forgive me if I am a little critical of the Cowboys not being aggressive in their pursuit of Murray, who I feel was the most important part of Romo’s success in 2014. I don’t think Murray is the best running back in the NFL, but I think he was a top-5 or -7 back the Cowboys should have made more of an effort to keep if they were serious about making a Super Bowl run in 2015.
I’m fine with Dez Bryant’s contract (unlike some), but I’m not fine with some of the character risks the Cowboys took on this offseason at key spots. Greg Hardy will miss the first four games of the season against the Giants, Eagles, Falcons, and Saints. Dallas focused a lot of energy on their defense and a big part of it will miss the first two division games of the year.
That isn’t good.
Randy Gregory is still unproven (on and off the field) and so, too, is Byron Jones (It should be noted I am pretty high on him in general), and saying Jones will be thrown into the fire early would be an understatement when you take a look at the quarterback gauntlet he will face weeks 1-9.
I’m also weary of the divisional opponents outside of Washington. The Giants have gotten better and bring back their own potent offense from a season ago to go with a sneaky upgraded defense. Philadelphia might have been the quietest 10-win team from 2014 and I expect them to win more than that in 2015. All kidding aside, Washington has an opportunity to put some things together if *insert any number of factors here*. They’re never a pushover for the ‘Boys though.
I’m probably in the minority here, but I don’t see the Cowboys making the playoffs in 2015. I think Philadelphia wins the division, the Giants give them enough fits to cut into wins they need to qualify, and the rest of the NFC (New Orleans, Minnesota, Arizona, etc.) have made enough improvements that the Wild Card spots aren’t guaranteed either.
Record Prediction: 9-7, miss playoffs
Disagree? Tell me why and follow me on Twitter, @DACubbage.