Can a healthy Dak lead the Cowboys back?
It’s no secret that when Dak Prescott was lost for the season last year in a gruesome NFL Week 5 injury, the Dallas Cowboys season was also all but over.
The ‘boys did rally to win three of their final four games that somehow kept them alive for a playoff berth because no one else seemed to want to claim honors in the NFC East.
But when all was said and done, Dallas finished with a 6-10 record and a third-place finish in the division.
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Is it really that easy?
Dallas has the second easiest strength of schedule based on last season’s records. Opponents on the Cowboys’ 2021-22 slate of games finished the 2020-21 season with a .452 winning percentage. Only division rival Philadelphia has an easies road ahead with a .430 winning percentage.
But with the expected improvement of teams from last year to this year, don’t expect that to translate into the ‘boys crushing that 9.5 wins total mark.
A Rude Welcome Back
Dak and the ‘boys will be tested right out of the gate. Dallas hits the road in NFL Week 1 to face Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only will Prescott be challenged against a stout Bucs’ defense, but a revamped Cowboys defense will be tested against Brady who has all of his weapons back from last season.
Neither is a good combination for Dallas. It’s not the type of game you want to start out the season, but facing 44-year old Brady in the beginning of the season may produce slightly better Sports Betting Odds than at the end — as he proved last season.
Rest of the Schedule outlook
An up-and-coming Los Angeles Chargers team with a star in the making under center in Justin Herbert awaits the Cowboys in Week 2, also on the road. Many may call this a must-win game — if there is such a thing in Week 2 — but then again Dallas does play in the NFC East.
Sticking to playing tough games on the road, Dallas has three other arduous tasks away from Jerry World. The Cowboys travel to New England in NFL Week 6, at Minnesota in NFL Week 8, and to Arrowhead Stadium in a Week 11 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Cowboys do have a bye in NFL Week 7 to break up the two road tests against the Pats and Vikings.
Other key non-divisional games for the ‘boys come in a Week 9 home game against Denver and playing host to Arizona in Week 17.
Offense Leading the Way
As has been the case for a few seasons running, Dallas has a plethora of talent on the offensive side of the ball. With Dak back healthy — despite a recent setback after shoulder surgery — the Cowboys should be able to put up plenty of points.
Ezekiel Elliott will look to have a bounce-back season after a career-low 979 rushing yards. Elliott’s previous low was 983 yards in his second season (2017) but played in five fewer games (10) than he did last season. Tony Pollard (435 yards, 4 TD) will also compliment Elliott in the backfield.
Amari Cooper, C.D. Lamb and Michael Gallup are as good of a receiver trio as you will find in the league. Cooper is coming off a 92 reception and 1,114-yard season while Lamb finished his rookie campaign 65 yards shy of 1,000. Gallup provides plenty of upside as he produced 843 yards on 59 receptions.
Tight end Dalton Schultz enters his fourth NFL season after hauling in 63 receptions for 615 yards and four scores last season.
Can the Defense Make Stops?
The loss of Prescott was not the only reason for the Cowboys’ poor season last year. Dallas allowed a franchise record of 473 points in 2020. It came to no surprise that Jerry Jones used his first-round pick on a player who was considered to be one of the top defensive players in the draft, Micah Parsons. The No. 12 overall pick out of Penn State gives new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn a solid group of linebackers to go along with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.
As mentioned above, the easy strength of schedule does not equate to easy wins. The Cowboys should be able to put up plenty of offense, but did the defense improve enough in the offseason to be the difference in some key close games?
We will need to see more from Dan Quinn’s group on defense to try and reach the 9.5 O/U on wins.
Final 2021-22 prediction: 8-9, which may still be good enough to win the East!
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