So the million dollar question heading into the season is whether we should expect a "special" season from our Dallas Cowboys. I have mixed emotions about the team heading into the season. I can see this team going anywhere from 8-8 to 12-4 depending on several variables.
When you look at the starting lineup on both sides of the ball it is hard to find many things to complain about. Some people might point to wide receiver as a weakness but I'm not sure I agree on that one because I believe Patrick Crayton is an underrated player. Remember I am talking about the starters at this point, so I really don't see any glaring weaknesses. So I guess wide receiver is debatable but on the surface the team looks very good on both sides of the ball. The starting lineup give me hope that there is potential for an 11-5 or 12-4 type of season.
The problems start popping up when you take a look at depth at some of the key positions on the roster. It would appear that an injury at several positions could cause the team to sink fast. The positions where I fear an injury the most are outside linebacker, quarterback, inside linebacker, defensive tackle, and offensive line. I'm primarily talking about Demarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, and Jay Ratliff. All of those guys I listed are capable of putting up pro bowl level seasons but the backups leave a lot to be desired. The Cowboys at least have a decent backup quarterback this year so all is not lost if Romo is forced out of a game or two. If the injuries start to mount like they did last year then I could see the team sinking as low as 8-8.
The bottom line is that every team has key players that they cannot afford to lose. It would be nice to have starting caliber players backing up every key position but that is just not realistic. So like just about any team in the league the Cowboys have to hope they can make it through the season relatively healthy. If things go well on the injury front like in 2007 then the team will be very good. If we have a rerun of last season's endless injuries then it will be another long season.
The most reasonable expectation is probably something in the middle. 2007 was incredibly injury free for the most part and 2008 was the polar opposite. Put the number of injuries somewhere in the middle and that is probably what we can expect. To me that means we are looking at an 11-5 or 10-6 season. If no key players are hurt things could get really interesting in the playoffs and I think the team could make a deep playoff run. If Romo, Ware, Felix Jones or another irreplaceable player goes down then we might be waiting another year for a playoff victory.
And we can't forget how special teams hurt the team last season. I still believe Joe DeCamillis is getting this unit heading in the right direction. I'm still seeing a lot of missed tackles but at least guys are starting to get into position on kickoff and punt coverage. Any improvement is going to make a huge difference in Cowboys' overall record.
My personal feeling is 11-5 with at least one playoff win. I am usually very optimistic but the last few years have forced me to take a more realistic approach to my expectations. 11-5 seems reasonable and I believe the injuries have a way of balancing themselves out from year to year. To me that means there will be fewer injuries which will lead to a stronger finish down the stretch. I'm feeling that the playoff drought is about to end but only time will tell.