The Dallas Cowboys went into the 2017 season with the expectation of competing for a Super Bowl. Dallas was coming off a magical season, where they went 13-3 behind the dynamic rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Exekiel Elliot. They not only won the NFC East, but were then No.1 seed in the NFC (2-games better than the next best team).

Needless to say, things didn’t go the Cowboys way last year. Dallas managed to go just 9-7. A big reason for that was the 6-game suspension of Elliot and injuries to left tackle Tyron Smith and linebacker Sean Lee.

A lot of the blame for last year’s decline was put on quarterback Dak Prescott, who saw his completion percentage drop from 67.8% to 62.9% and his TD-INT ratio fall from 23-4 to 22-13. While the criticism is fair given all the praise he got in his rookie season, I think his overall decline was due to Elliott and Smith missing time.

This year there’s a new challenge facing Prescott and the offense. While the running games figures to be one the best in the league with Elliott for a full 16 games and a revamped offensive line that will add 2nd round pick Connor Williams at left guard, their top two pass catchers from last year are both gone.

Dez Bryant was released and tight end Jason Witten retired. The two combined for 132 catches, 1,1398 yards and 11 touchdowns. I personally think the loss of Bryant is being a bit overblown. His play has been on the decline and he’s a major distraction inside the locker room. Witten on the other hand will be missed not only for his play on the field, but his leadership off of it.

Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams are the two mainstays back from last year. They added Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency, while also drafting Colorado State’s Michael Gallup in the 3rd round and Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson in the 6th round. Hurns is the name most are familiar with. His last full season in 2015, he caught 64 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns. Thompson could be a surprise. He was third on the Bills last year with 27 receptions and had a team-high 15.9 yards/reception.

As far as replacing Witten, Geoff Swain, Rico Gathers and 4th round rookie Dalton Schultz will be competing for playing time.

The Dallas defense often gets overlooked, but it’s produced at a really high level the past two seasons. Last year the Cowboys were 8th in total defense (318.1 ypg) and T-13th in scoring (20.8 ppg). The also ranked in the top half of the league vs both the run and the pass and were T-15th with 38 sacks.

The defensive line is anchored by end DeMarcus Lawrence and tackle David Irving. Lawrence had a breakout year in 2017 with 14.5 sacks and Irving had 7 sacks in the 8 games he played. There’s plenty more talent at defensive end, where the team returns Taco Charlton and Tyrone Crawford and signed free agent Kony Ealy. They also could get back Randy Gregory from suspension.

When it comes to the most important player on defense, it’s without a doubt linebacker Sean Lee. Dallas was 9-2 in the 11 games that Lee played in and 0-5 when he was sidelined. The huge drop-off when Lee was out, was a big reason why the Cowboys used their 1st round pick (No. 19 overall) on Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. If he’s as good as advertised and Jaylon Smith continues to get better, this will be one of the better linebacker groups in the league.

The big question mark with the defense is how will the secondary hold up. The unit has been completely revamped over the last two seasons. This year Bryon Jones is moving from safety to corner, where he will likely start opposite of either Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie or Anthony Brown. Xavier Woods will likely start at free safety with Kavon Frazier and Jeff Heath competing for the starting strong safety spot.

It all adds up to a make or break year for head coach Jason Garrett, who is now in his eighth year in charge. Get the Cowboys back to the postseason and Garrett likely sticks around, fail to make the playoffs again in 2018 and he’s likely looking for a new job.

2018 Cowboys Schedule & Projected Odds

Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.

WeekOpponentEst. OddsWins
1at Panthers+2.50.46
2Giants SNF-60.71
3at Seahawks+1.50.48
5at Texans SNF+30.41
7at Redskins+10.49
9Titans MNF-3.50.64
10at Eagles SNF+5.50.31
11at Falcons+30.41
13Saints TNF-1.50.53
15at Colts-30.59
17at GiantsPK0.50

Projected Wins: 8.60

Over/Under Wins Prediction: OVER 8.5

It’s amazing how quickly things can change in the NFL. Going into last season the Cowboys were the consensus pick to win the NFC East and a favorite of many to win the Super Bowl. With the Eagles coming off a Super Bowl win, ┬áit’s like everyone has completely forgot about how good this team was in 2016.

I haven’t and I think there’s some decent value here with Dallas to eclipse their win total of 8.5. Keep in mind for everything that went wrong last year, they still managed to win 9 games. I see no reason why they can’t at least match last year’s record and wouldn’t be shocked if they flew past this total.

I understand the concerns over losing Bryant and Witten, but the offense isn’t built around their passing attack. It’s all about the running game and with Elliott no longer facing a suspension, this team should maul opponents on the ground behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Teams are going to have no choice but to load the box and that’s going to make life a lot easier on Prescott when he does have to throw.

The ability to control the time of possession with their ground attack will also pay dividends for the defense, which I’ve mentioned is a lot better than they get credit for.

Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +3300

I think Dallas is a great value bet when it comes to winning the Super Bowl. The Cowboys are currently sitting at +3300, which is tied with the Giants for the 15th best odds to win it all. Keep in mind that going into last year, Dallas was right around +1200 to win the Super Bowl.

If you are like me and think the Cowboys are primed for a big bounce back season, now is the time to get in on this future bet. Even though they aren’t getting a ton of love right now, this is still one of the bigger public teams in the league and the books won’t hesitate to drop their odds if they get off to a strong start.

Odds to Win the NFC: +1400

I also see value with Dallas to simply win the NFC this year. Dallas has just slightly better odds than the Lions, who are sitting at +1800 and I just don’t see anywhere close to the same upside with Detroit as I do the Cowboys.

Odds to Win the NFC East: +350

The hardest thing to do in the NFL is pick against the team that just won it all, which is why you are going to see just about every publication out there pegging the Eagles to repeat as NFC East champs. I’ll admit that it’s hard to bet against Philadelphia with all the talent they have on that roster, but it’s a lot different going from being a surprise team to one that’s trying to defend a title.

With that said, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see the Cowboys retake the division title they won in 2016.