Dallas has one thing going for them in 2015. Their loaded offensive line, I believe the best OL in the NFL. Other than that one area of strength, there are serious flaws all over this Cowboys roster. Combine that with an extra dose of incredible luck from last year and a much tougher schedule in 2015 and we have a team primed for regression.
In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys faced one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. Nine of their 16 regular season games came against teams that were in the bottom third of the league at the time. They had two big wins. One came in October against Seattle, but the Seahawks got off to a 4-4 start, and against the Colts in December in a game where the Colts were a complete no-show. The only other games they played all year against playoff teams were a home loss to Arizona and a pair of playoff games, they were lucky to escape with a non-spread covering win over Detroit, before the Packers sent them home. This team feasted on the weak, plain and simple.
The Cowboys face a first place schedule in 2015. Given the expected improvement in the NFC South and the AFC East; two divisions that combine to have only one team lined below 7.5 wins (Tampa Bay). The Cowboys face all eight teams from those two divisions. Dallas went 4-2 against the NFC East last year; a division with only Washington lined below 8 wins. I don’t see any improvement off that 4-2 division mark from 2014. The Cowboys, coming off a first place finish, now must face a first place schedule, with their two extra games coming against Green Bay and Seattle.
The Cowboys defense was horrific in 2013, ranked at or near the bottom of the league in just about every key statistical category. Last year the defense improved marginally in large part because the offense was able to play ball control, keeping their awful defense off the field. They’re counting on the return to full strength for linebacker Sean Lee, a comeback season from embattled pass rusher Greg Hardy and an immediate return from first round draft choice Byron Jones at cornerback; none of which are locks. Considering the Cowboys defense finished #2 in the NFL with 31 takeaways last year, we can certainly expect a decline in their turnover margin this year.
Dallas was a .500 team in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Last year, they won all the close games, going 4-1 in games decided by a TD or less, and outperformed their statistical profile by a fairly wide margin, due to their #3 ranking in time of possession.
I am convinced that their 2014 breakout was caused by the stars lining up in their favor and not a sign of things to come. Look for Dallas to return to 8-8 this season.
Written by Brian Hay.