(At long last, the NFL season is in sight. After a long offseason, the Cowboys off to training camp on Tuesday. In the last month before they begin practice in Oxnard, Calif. this week the staff of DallasCowboys.com previewed the 20 biggest questions facing the Cowboys heading into 2018, with a big-picture conclusion today.)
Throughout this entire 20 Questions series, there have been a variety of topics ranging from the expectations of Randy Gregory, to the rookie who will make the biggest impact to the performances of players such as Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and DeMarcus Lawrence.
But all of it really leads us to one pressing question that trumps everything else. As the Cowboys travel on Tuesday to California for the start of training camp, let's get to the most pressing question of all as we wrap up the game of 20 questions.
1) Do The Cowboys Make The Playoffs in 2018?
David Helman: I think they're going to be in the mix, which is better than a lot of people seem to be giving them credit for. Yes, there have been some noteworthy losses in the offseason, but this is a team that came within a game of a wild card spot last year – and that was without their All-Pro left tackle or their All-Pro running back playing down the stretch. I think the offense is going to click just fine without Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and I think the defense might be as good as it has been in years. The problem isn't the Cowboys – it's that the NFC is absolutely loaded. Look across the conference and you see stacked teams like Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay, Atlanta and Carolina in the way. On top of that, you've got to play two supremely talented AFC teams in Jacksonville and Houston. It seems like a lot to ask. I think 10-6 is a realistic goal, and I think this team is capable of finishing with a winning record. But sitting here in July, I can't in good conscience predict they make the playoffs.
Mickey Spagnola: Can I answer that question Sept. 1? There is so much unknown about this team at this point, good or bad, this becomes a highly uneducated guess. We just don't know, and that is why we are arriving in training camp today. But let's look at it this way: There is a good chance this offense, with a little more depth on the offensive line, will be quite productive, despite the worries at wide receiver. Remember the first eight games of last season when the Cowboys were averaging 28.2 points a game before the roof caved in with Zeke's suspension and the injury to Tyron Smith. This defense actually finished No. 8 overall (total yards), highest since an eighth-place finish in 2008 and matching the highest finish since No. 1 in 2003. And this group potentially has more talent than last year's, though short on experience. Remember, last year with Sean Lee on the field the Cowboys were 8-2. Without him, 0-6. I'm looking at you Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. So, looking at it this way, however prematurely, yes, they make the playoffs.
Lindsay Draper: PLAYOFFS! Yeah, let's talk playoffs. I just went through the 2018 schedule with my buddy ole pal David Helman, and I came out with a 10-6 finish. So, 2018 playoffs for your Dallas Cowboys are a yes from me. I genuinely think this team will be incredibly different than what they put out last year, solely because of Ezekiel Elliott's presence at the start of training camp. Obviously, health is going to be a key factor here. And barring any unforeseen injuries, playoffs are definitely in the cards for what I think this team will be.
Nick Eatman: Yes. The Cowboys make the playoffs. We've seen this up-and-down cycle for the Cowboys the past few years and I think it swings back for them again. Maybe not to the 12 and 13-win level like we saw in 2014 and 2016, but enough for the playoffs. To me, it comes back to this offensive line and running game. If they've got that working, they've have a chance to win any game on the schedule, regardless if it's home or way. That's what a strong running attack gives you – a chance. And if the defense can get some breaks health-wise, the kicker returns to form, and the offense finds a way to utilize some of this new speed at receiver, I believe the Cowboys will get to at least 10 wins and that will find them in the postseason again.
Bryan Broaddus: This schedule will make it difficult for them to make the playoffs so I'll have to say no. Matchups with AFC / NFC South plus games against Seattle and Detroit will be troubling. My concerns are not only with these opponents but the quarterbacks the Cowboys will be facing. Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz are just the tip of the iceberg. Plus, throw in the defenses in Carolina, Houston Jacksonville and Philadelphia - - they will have their hands full. If the Cowboys do make the playoffs, it will be due to their strong running game and young secondary playing as well as they did the last month of the season. If those areas come together I'd be more than happy to admit that I was wrong.
Rob Phillips: I believe so. The Cowboys organization has a way of surprising people. Sometimes it's not the way they hoped. In 2010 and 2015 and 2017, goals were high and they didn't reach them. But they usually exceed lower expectations, and it seems the outside perception is they're too unproven at some key spots and their schedule looks too difficult. I go back the offensive line. It's the foundation of the offense and a domino effect for the defense. On paper it's stronger, deeper than last year. If Tyron Smith can stay healthy, if Connor Williams can adapt quickly, I think the Cowboys get back to doing what they do best – playing off of Ezekiel Elliott and the pace-setting run game -- and win 10 games that way.