We've waited a long time for this. NFL football is back as the Super Bowl Champion Broncos host the Carolina Panthers on NBC Thursday night.
Side note, I'll take the Panthers to roll the Broncos.
The Dallas Cowboys will kick off the 2016 campaign against the New York Giants Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium in what is sure to be a season full of story lines. Just look at this off-season alone, there are layers upon layers of story lines:
Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the 4th overall pick. Jerry Jones uncharacteristically got cold feet about drafting a quarterback early like he had planned. Rolando McClain, DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory got busted by the NFL for drugs. Zeke got in trouble with the law. Kellen Moore got hurt. Prescott looked like the next Russell Wilson. Then Tony Romo got hurt. There are many others, but obviously these are the defining headlines as the season begins.
What is my 2016 Cowboys prediction? 7-9.
Prescott will play well early. As defensive coordinators start piling up tape on the rookie, they'll disrupt his tendencies and take away his favorite options. How Prescott adjusts to that will determine how successful the Cowboys can be during the second quarter of the season.
Tony Romo will return eventually. So long as he's not rushed back, I think he can have a very successful second half. But, will the Cowboys be in the hunt still? I think so, given how mediocre the NFC East is. I don't think this is Romo's last season, he's too prideful and doesn't want to go out like this.
Ezekiel Elliott will be the NFL Rookie of the Year. By this time next year, he'll be considered the best running back in football. When he's not on the field, you'll notice because there will be a drop-off from the guy replacing him. Oh yeah, the offensive line is also the best in football. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler and Jason Witten make up a solid receiving core to help out Prescott and Romo.
The defense is a problem. Especially after losing three starters in the front seven; Lawrence, McClain and Gregory. I don't think the Cowboys have the guys to get constant pressure on the opposing quarterback. Jack Crawford is likely starting on one end and the team is converting Kyle Wilber back to DE in hopes he can be disruptive.
The linebacking core is thin and top heavy. Outside of Sean Lee, nobody will scare opposing offenses. Unfortunately, Lee tends to get hurt and if that happens the Cowboys linebacking unit suddenly looks porous.
The secondary is the strength of this team. I except quality years from guys who need them, including Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne and Byron Jones. They each have an interesting story and they're all motivated this season.
Ultimately, this team's fate is in the hands of Prescott and a defense that lacks play-makers. The Cowboys will be very competitive in every game they play. I believe they'll consistently play up or down to the competition which will lead to some nervous 4th quarters. This team will miss the playoffs, but Jason Garrett's job is safe.