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Cowboys in 2013: 9-7 and a Playoff Berth

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin celebrate after a touchdown catch.

    The Dallas Cowboys will be a better football team in 2013.

    But considering how mediocre they’ve been in recent years, will better be good enough?

    It’s time to find out once and for all if this core group of talented underachievers is worthy of our stubborn praise.

    We’ll find out Sunday night if the Cowboys can accomplish something they’ve done only once since 1998: Start the season with a home victory. And we’ll learn over the next five months if they can add to their lone playoff win over the last 17 years.

    We haven’t heard much talk of “Super Bowl” during a relatively quiet and humble preseason. Oh, Jerry Jones gloats that he has the brain of a 40-year-old and Stephen Jones claims his organization possesses a “secret sauce” to win a title. But for the most part the focus has been on football.

    So why will the Cowboys be better than the squads that finished 8-8 the last two years and lost consecutive NFC East Championship Games?

    With a healthy DeMarco Murray and Bill Callahan as the play-caller, I expect the Cowboys to be more committed to running the ball – especially in the Red Zone. Rookie center Travis Frederick will be an immediate asset and the addition of veteran Brian Waters will fortify a weak line down the road. Dez Bryant (who led the NFL with 10 touchdown catches the last half of 2012) will be an MVP candidate and Tony Romo – with tweaked mechanics and more influence into game-planning – is just too smart to continue his crunch-time brain cramps.

    On defense, Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme will be more organized and productive than Rob Ryan’s chaotic mess of last year. The defensive line will be suspect until Anthony Spencer gets healthy and Jay Ratliff returns (Week 7), but with linebackers Bruce Carter and Sean Lee staying on the field the unit will be significantly upgraded. And Will Allen will the Cowboys’ hardest-hitting ball hawk since Darren Woodson.

    Kicker Dan Bailey will win the Cowboys some games, and hopefully Rich Bisaccia’s special teams – woeful in the preseason – won’t lose them any.

    Then comes Jason Garrett, suddenly demoted to a walk-around coach. Titles be damned, he simply needs to avoid the fundamental time-management gaffes that have plagued this team the last three seasons.

    With games in September against the Giants, Chiefs, Rams and Chargers, I can see the Cowboys getting off to a 4-0 start. But it’s also not difficult to envision that record turning into 4-4 and, ultimately – again – a tough December (Bears, Packers and Redskins) deciding the fate of the season.

    I have the Cowboys going 9-7 and making the playoffs as a Wild Card.

    To get there they’ve got to immediately turn some trends in Arlington. The Cowboys have lost eight of their last nine appearances on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. And they’ve won a home opener to start the season only once in the last 14 years.

    The team they beat: These same Giants, in 2007.

    We'll find out right off the bat if these are the same ol' Cowboys.

    A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his fiancee, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.