With the NFL season around the corner, Nick Ballistreri shares his Over/Under pick for the Dallas Cowboys Win Total
The Dallas Cowboys are America’s Team…or America’s most hated team. Whichever way you slice it, the Cowboys draw attention to fans all across America. After a season in which the Cowboys finished 10-6 and won just their 3rd playoff game since 1996, they are aiming higher this year. With an offense lead by young trio Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper, and a defense lead by young stars all over the ball, it’s safe to say that expectations are sky-high in Big D.
Things are looking up offensively for the Cowboys. Dak Prescott is coming off a season in which he threw for 3,885 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions while completing 67.7% of his pass attempts. While the touchdown numbers may look low, Prescott is dual-threat QB who makes things happen with his legs, as he has rushed for 6 touchdowns in each of his 3 seasons. Dak may not be the most explosive passer, but he makes plays when it matters, indicated by his 32-16 record in his regular season career.
In the backfield the Cowboys have Ezekiel Elliott. Another young player, Elliott has lead the NFL in rushing yards 2 out of his 3 seasons, and was on his way to going 3/3 if he wasn’t suspended 6 games in 2017. Elliott is the spoon that stirs the Cowboys offense. In 15 games last season, he rushed for 1,434 yards and 6 touchdowns. Elliott was also utilized more in the passing game last season, amassing a career-high 77 receptions to go along with his rushing totals.
Put simply, Elliott wears down opposing defenses, and it shows. Over the last 3 seasons, the Cowboys are 28-12 when Zeke plays, and only 4-4 when he misses. Currently holding out of training camp with a contract dispute, Elliott’s status is a key piece of the puzzle if the Cowboys hope to contend this season. The Cowboys also drafted rookie RB Tony Pollard in the 4th round of the NFL draft. Pollard is looked at as a key complementary piece to Zeke, but if Elliott continues to hold out, Pollard may be needed more than expected.
Right before the trade deadline last season, the Cowboys swung a trade for Raiders WR Amari Cooper that changed their season. At the time of the trade, the Cowboys were struggling through the air, and were 3-4. Teams were stacking the box forcing Zeke to run into 8-9 man boxes. The Cowboys were in trouble.
Enter Amari Cooper. After trading for Cooper, the Cowboys went 6-2 with a much improved passing attack. By adding Cooper, teams had to worry more about the Cowboys passing game, leaving more room for Elliott to find rushing lanes. The Cowboys also have promising 2nd year receiver Michael Gallup, who the team expects to make a huge leap. To round out the receiving corps, the Cowboys signed veteran Randall Cobb to a 1-year deal in free agency.
Add in the fact that All-Pro Center Travis Frederick is coming back from a season-ending auto-immune disease, the Cowboys should again have one of the best, if not the best offensive lines in football again. This is arguably the best Cowboys offense since 2014, and everybody knows what happened to the Cowboys that season when Dez may or may have not caught the go-ahead touchdown in Lambeau. All in the all, Cowboys have a well-rounded offense that has the potential to be explosive.
Just like the offense, the Cowboys sport a talented defense. The defensive line employs 2 pro bowl talents in Demarcus Lawrence, and newly signed Robert Quinn. There are a multitude of lineman defensive coordinator Kris Richard can utilize there, as this defensive front looks to be a handful for opposing lines.
Many in the league would argue that the Cowboys have two of the brightest stars at the linebacker position, Jaylen Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Smith and Vander Esch were absolute studs last year at the position, and entering their 4th and 2nd seasons, respectively, you can expect them to continue to improve.
In the secondary, the Cowboys boast a strong young core of talent, lead by cornerback Byron Jones. Flanked by Chidobe Awuzie, the Cowboys have two potential lockdown talents at corner. The area of concern may be at safety, as the Cowboys failed to make an upgrade to Jeff Heath, who while not horrible, is average at best. The team has high hopes for the safety opposite Heath, Xavier Woods, to make a huge jump this season.
Last season, the Cowboys defense allowed 20.25 points per game, and there is reason to believe they can improve that number.
Cowboys Over/Under Pick
Draftkings has set the Cowboys O/U at 9. With all of the talent I discussed above, you may be wondering why it’s so low. Let me explain. As always, there is drama in Big D. At this very moment, there has been no sign of progress in Ezekiel Elliott’s contract standoff. If he doesn’t show, that’s a potentially devastating loss for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Another cause for concern is that head coach Jason Garrett has proven to be solid, but not spectacular. He has also been known for some let downs after big seasons.
However, with these issues comes some optimism as well. Garrett is in a contract season, and his last contract season was 2014, when he pulled a 12-4 record out of thin air. The team also let go of longtime offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who drove Cowboys fans crazy with his vanilla play calling and lack of innovation. Replacing him is 30-year old Kellen Moore. Moore has been on the staff for a couple seasons, and while inexperienced, the talk out of training camp has been nothing but praise. I fully expect the Cowboys offense to play better than last season, and become the offense the talent indicates it should be.
This is a team with Super Bowl aspirations. The division, while always tough, is not terribly daunting this season. The Eagles have high expectations, but the Giants and Redskins are in clear rebuilds. The Cowboys at the very least should expect 4 division wins, if not more.
With the return of Travis Frederick bolstering the offensive line, a full season of Amari Cooper, and internal improvements from Dak Prescott and the young defense, I fully expect the Cowboys to win more than 9 games. Put it this way: The team won 10 games last season and played nowhere near their potential. Unless something catastrophic goes wrong (like Zeke sitting all season), I believe the Over 9 is the smart play here.
Cowboys Over 9 +105 @ Draftkings