LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 30: Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys drops back to pass during their game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 30, 2012 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Yesterday, I made a prediction that the Cowboys will score 425 points in 2013 -- 49 points more than they scored in 2012, or just over one field goal per game, and a total that would have ranked them seventh in the NFL last season. It’s a bigger jump than you might think, but one that’s warranted given the Cowboys’ offensive talent and, more important, expected improvement in defensive play. With better field position, Dallas will score more points, even if the offense doesn’t improve at all.
Today, I’m going to explain why I think the Cowboys will have a positive point differential of at least 25 points. That’s another big jump from the -24 point differential they posted in 2012, when they allowed 400 points. Let me be clear that if Dallas scores 425 points on offense, I think the differential will be even greater. However, I’m making this prediction independently of yesterday’s, so I have to factor in the chance that the ‘Boys won’t score as many points as I’m expecting.
I’ve already explained why the Cowboys will almost assuredly improve upon their -24 point differential from 2012, namely that they’ll secure more takeaways. With just seven interceptions last year, the ‘Boys ranked last in the league. That will change under Monte Kiffin, and it will have a double-barreled effect, limiting the opposition’s points and increasing the probability of points for the offense.
One of the cool things that we can do with the point differential is estimate the Cowboys’ projected recorded with great accuracy. Year in and year out, NFL teams’ actual records closely resemble their points scored and allowed. Using what’s known as the Pythagorean Expectation, we can 1) figure out how lucky a team was in the past and 2) predict their future record by accurately estimating points for and against.
The formula itself is kind of messy (you have to use an exponent of 2.37), but the results are incredibly accurate. Last season, the Cowboys had a Pythagorean Expectation of 7.4 wins, meaning they got lucky to win eight games given how they played. However, take a look at how their 2013 Pythagorean Expectation will change as their point differential does the same:
425 points scored, 400 points allowed: 8.6 wins
425 points scored, 375 points allowed: 9.2 wins
450 points scored, 350 points allowed: 10.3 wins
Last season, five teams had a point differential of at least 100. They had the five best records in the NFL. To almost ensure that they make the playoffs, the Cowboys probably need to be in the range of +75. The team could get in with a much worse differential (like the Colts at -30 last season), but of the nine teams to have a +75 differential in 2012, only the Giants didn’t make the playoffs.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.