Now that the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots are on their way to Super Bowl LI, project how much longer it will take for the Dallas Cowboys to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Matt Galatzan: Come August and September, a lot of fans and national media people will probably be saying that the Cowboys are favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. To be honest, I can see why they would say it, too. Dallas has a great O-line, arguably the best running back in the NFL, a fantastic quarterback, and a ‘good enough’ defense to make a real run at it.
With that being said, I still think the Cowboys are going to be a year away from really having their best chance the represent the conference.
For starters, Dallas needs to get some help on the pass rush, and I mean immediately. Against Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, the defense could not get their hands on him at all, and it led to plays like 3rd-and-19, and other tremendous throws, that they just couldn’t contend with. I know, I know, they got three sacks. But if you really watched the game, and you take a look at the tape, for most of the day Rodgers was upright, and wasn’t under too much stress.
Moreover, Atlanta got after him early, and often, and it kept the Green Bay offense from gaining any momentum in their passing game, which was their bread and butter.
A-Rodge is just one example though. Inevitably, whether it happens in the Divisional Round, the NFC Championship Game, or the Super Bowl, the Cowboys will come up against an elite quarterback that they simply must get after.
I also think they need some help in the secondary. Brandon Carr was fine, Mo Claiborne got better, and Byron Jones is only going to improve, but they were simply too thin back there after Orlando Scandrick’s initial injury, one that plagued him throughout the year.
I believe, if they can find some help in the pass rush, and in the secondary, they will make a quantum leap on defense, and really be in the driver’s seat in the NFC after next season. Add those things to a hopefully healthy Jaylon Smith, some improved play at the right tackle spot (however that comes) and you’re really rolling.
The reason I say AFTER next season, by the way, is because it’s unreasonable to expect rookies to come in and have the same kind of impact as Dak (Prescott) and Zeke (Elliott) did. Normally, rookies don’t have an impact as massive as those two did, and the Cowboys hit that lottery twice. It is probably more reasonable to expect whoever the Cowboys bring in at those spots to take a year or more to reach their full potential.
So in the end, I say the Cowboys reach do the Super Bowl, but not in the 2017-2018 season. I say they get their in 2018-2019, and probably a couple of times after that.
Matthew Postins: Make your plans now for Super Bowl LIV in sunny Miami Gardens, Fla. That’s when I believe the Dallas Cowboys will make their first Super Bowl appearance since the end of the 1995 season. Yep, that’s three years from now, and yes that seems like a long time to wait.
Offensively, the Cowboys are fine. In fact, the additions of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, along with their commitment to the best offensive line in football, has actually taken a championship window that was closing fast and blown it wide open.
But it’s the defense that has the potential to hold this Cowboys team back from making it to a Super Bowl before the 2019 season.
This could be a seismic offseason defensively. The list of free agents in the secondary could leave the Cowboys decimated on the back row, depending on whom they’re able to keep. Meanwhile, up front, Randy Gregory will miss 2017 due to suspension, Demarcus Lawrence is set for a second back surgery and there is no telling whether Charles Tapper — who has a pars defect in his back — will be the player the Cowboys hoped he might be when they drafted him last year. That leaves the Cowboys, right now, with David Irving and Benson Mayowa as their top two pass rushers. That won’t cut it.
That’s why the Cowboys must continue to work the draft and the free-agent market to help those positions, and that takes time because the Cowboys don’t have much cap space to work with (at the moment) and there are only so many draft picks to go around. Remember Matt mentioning the Cowboys hitting the lottery twice with Prescott and Elliott? Well, NFL teams don’t hit the lottery too often.
Additionally, this NFC is getting tougher.
Dez Bryant isn't necessarily wrong when he says (via the DMN), "I'm not being biased because I play for the Cowboys, but I think we're the only team that had a shot to beat the Falcons."
Maybe. But while the Falcons are the 12th NFC team to make the Super Bowl in 16 years, they don’t appear to be going anywhere. The Panthers should bounce back. The Packers are still serious contenders. So are the Seahawks. It’s a crowded field in the NFC now and these teams are all built well for the future. It won’t be an easy path for the Cowboys, who may have had a "shot'' ... but not a better shot than the aforementioned.
So, given the defensive issues they must work through and the emerging toughness of the NFC as a whole, I give it three years. Which, when you think about it, isn’t so bad. At least it’s in sunny Miami.