By David Mullen
Recently, unrelenting Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones responded to a reporter’s question with another question at training camp in Oxnard, Calif. regarding the holdout of All-Pro running back Zeke Elliott. “La estrella,” Elliott could have responded from his training camp in Cabo San Lucas. Jones and Elliott finally came to terms with a new six–year contract reportedly worth $90 million. It should be noted that Emmitt Smith sat out the entire preseason, missed the first two games of the 1993 season (which the Cowboys lost), and Dallas still won Super Bowl XXVIII.
Although Cowboys fans are eternally optimistic, their last Super Bowl appearance was in 1996 (culminating the 1995 season.) But this Cowboys team is good and worthy of Super Bowl consideration.
Dallas benefits from an improved defense and a weak division. Their linebackers are fierce with Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and oft-injured Sean Lee. The defensive backfield and front four can give a team fits. On offense, it will be quarterback Dak Prescott’s team, and Jones may have drafted a gem in running back Tony Pollard from Memphis, who wants fans to forget all about Elliott. Anything short of a playoff win will cost head coach Jason Garrett his job, which could be incentive for the team to rally around him. But if he fails, won’t we miss those insightful press conferences?
The Philadelphia Eagles are the next best team in the NFC East, but must depend on QB Carson Wentz to lead the team. The New York Giants are in flux at QB between veteran Eli Manning and rookie Daniel Jones. They are sorely thin at wide receiver, beset by injuries and suspensions. (Golden Tate will miss the first four games for a PED violation.) And the Washington Redskins don’t have the talent to compete.
The NFC North looks like a shootout between the Minnesota Vikings’ and Green Bay Packers. If it gets down to a battle of QBs in the Vikings Kirk Cousins and the Packers’ Aaron Rogers, the Pack prevails. The Chicago Bears will scrape for touchdowns on offense led by third-year QB Mitchell Trubisky, hoping a stingy front defense line will play spoiler. Highland Park’s own and Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford at 31-years-old, which is a peak age for his position, must stay healthy and adapt to a new offensive scheme.
From top to bottom, the NFC South may be the strongest division. This could be New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees’ last real opportunity to go to the NFC Championship. Now 40, Brees has thrown for nearly 75,000 yards and will be protected by an excellent offensive line. He has a valuable weapon in versatile back Alvin Kamara. The question remains whether they have a championship caliber defense. The Atlanta Falcons remain an anomaly. They are two seasons removed from Super Bowl LI, where they squandered a 25-point lead late in the third quarter and ended up losing by three. Last season, they were 7-9 and missed the playoffs.
Injuries will make or break the season for the Charlotte Panthers. Their best players, QB Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen, are prone to breakdown. The only things colorful about this team are their uniforms.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping that new head coach Bruce Arians can right the ship and get the most out of the talented, but erratic QB Jameis Winston. Arians successfully coached NFL QBs Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Andrew Luck.
The Los Angeles Rams are the class of the NFC West. Their offense is explosive led by QB Jared Goff who, at 24 years old, keeps improving. They also have the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in pass rusher Aaron Donald.
The San Francisco 49ers are building for the future and may be a year away from seriously competing. They have drafted and acquired players deftly in the offseason, and have provided an offensive-friendly scheme for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. They don’t play their first divisional game until week six (including a bye). Coach Kyle Shanahan is intense and could inspire the team to a playoff berth.
The Seattle Seahawks have lost a lot of players and consequently their swagger. Don’t count out QB Russell Wilson. He is a leader and will manage to win some games.
Sorry, Texas Tech and Oklahoma fans. Arizona Cardinals’ new head coach Kliff Kingsbury (formerly at Tech) and rookie QB Kyler Murray (Heisman Trophy winner as a Sooner) are more suited for a men’s catalogue than a winning NFL season. They look good in pictures, but not on paper. The Cards are the worst team in the NFC.
I predict the Cowboys, Vikings, Saints and Rams as division winners. The Wild Card teams will be the Packers and the 49ers. While it is difficult to count out the Saints, the Cowboys and Rams will play in the NFC title game. Home field advantage could be the tiebreaker. The Cowboys have a home field advantage and the Rams playing in their last season at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which is older than the Roman Colosseum, do not. The Cowboys advance to Miami to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.
In a high-scoring game featuring speed (Chiefs) versus a maturing defense (Cowboys), Kansas City wins their first Super Bowl since the 1969 season and the NFL/AFL merger. Whether the Cowboys can win may come down to Elliott playing at a high level for most of the season. Too bad the NFL doesn’t play the Super Bowl in Cabo.