After a horror 2020 season in which they missed the playoffs, the Cowboys will be looking to improve with Dak Prescott under centre.
America’s team have the second easiest schedule behind division rival Philadelphia. Expectations are high in Arlington for a bounce-back season.
A few days have now passed since the NFL released their 2021 schedule and on paper, Cowboys fans should be very happy. The boys from Arlington have one of the easiest schedules in the league, ranking 31st out of 32 teams.
However, just because the schedule looks easy on paper, it doesn’t mean it will be the same once players hit the turf. Dallas will play both Super Bowl teams from last season in Tampa Bay and Kansas City away, as well as tricky match-ups against the Vikings, Patriots, Chargers, and the Saints all away from Jerry World.
Yet even with those teams mentioned, the Cowboys still have to face some tough teams like the Raiders, Denver, and the Atlanta Falcons to go with their usual division match-ups with the Giants, Eagles, and Washington.
So that begs the question, how will Dallas fare in 2021? A lot has to do with exactly how healthy Dak Prescott is as well as his offensive line because let’s face it, that was gutted last season.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was asked by the Cowboys’ media team about the chances of Prescott being fully cleared to participate at the start of training camp.
“I have no reason not to think that,” McCarthy said.
“I think this week and Phase 2 (of the off-season program) will be a nice step in that direction.
“But I know he feels really good. He’s really had some excellent workouts (in) the last couple weeks… I see him doing most of the work.”
There is no doubting the potential talents on the offensive side of the ball, but the real challenge is defensively. Last season, the Dallas Cowboys’ defence was an abomination as they were constantly blown apart.
Now with a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn and with first-round pick Micah Parsons arguably being the best defensive player in the entire 2021 draft, the Cowboys’ linebacker room looks solid should both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch remain healthy.
Along with other draft picks in CB Kelvin Joseph, DT Osa Odighizuwa, DE Chauncey Golston and CB Nahshon Wright – all of whom were taken in the first three rounds – there is a very youthful look to the Dallas defence and that is without mentioning Trevon Diggs and Randy Gregory.
So with such a young defence, how well can we expect the Cowboys to fare? Facing Tom Brady and his Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers along with Justin Herbert in the first two games is a tough proposition, not to mention facing Patrick Mahomes.
On top of that, Dallas will be locking horns with a host of serviceable quarterbacks throughout the season. Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr and Kyler Murray will all come up against a young Dallas defence.
So there are seven games in which the Cowboys will be coming up against teams that have more than enough to cause them problems. That is without the vastly improved New York Giants and the beasts that Washington have along their defensive front, which they face twice a year. Suddenly that easy schedule is looking decidedly trickier.
The biggest question marks for the Cowboys are what kind of Dak Prescott will we see, and how improved will the defence be. We all know what the offence can do but it is on the other side of the ball where the real problems are.
Conservatively, Dallas could end the season with a 10-7 record but that could easily move in either direction as the year goes on. One thing is for certain, with Prescott’s huge contract and the need for a vastly improved defence, the 2021 season is shaping up as a defining one for America’s team.