1) Is This The Year The Cowboys Get Off The 8-8 Train?

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IRVING, Texas – When the Cowboys report to training camp on July 22 in Oxnard, Calif., several questions will still need to be answered.

The staff writers at DallasCowboys.com – Rowan Kavner, David Helman, Nick Eatman and Bryan Broaddus – will attempt to answer these questions before the start of training camp. The questions will vary in importance, with the most pressing topics getting brought up in the days closest to camp. 

Today, the staff predicts how the 2014 season will go.    

1) Is This The Year The Cowboys Get Off The 8-8 Train?

Rowan Kavner: They won't go 8-8 for the fourth straight season. The only issue is, just looking at the starting roster and the tough schedule, I have a hard time predicting they finish on the better side of .500. On one hand, it's hard to believe the defense getting any worse. But think about the team losing DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee and look at the additions, and it's difficult to see vast improvements, even with the promotion for Rod Marinelli. There just aren't a ton of players on defense anyone can be completely sure of – whether it's because they're coming off injury or new to the league or had inconsistency issues – other than maybe Barry Church, but he's only started one full season. The offense probably needs to be top five in the league, and that's a lot to ask for a quarterback coming off back surgery, despite the much improved offensive line and a stud on the outside. The team has gotten younger, the depth should be significantly better and it's headed the right way. I just wonder about many of the unclear starters, and it's difficult to project the team going 8-8 or better.

David Helman:Yes, they will – but not in the way everyone's hoping for. I think the Cowboys are heading in the right direction in terms of the talent and depth on their roster, but it's not going to reflect in their record in 2014. The schedule looks brutal – especially the back half, which sees them travel to London, not to mention all three division road games in the last six weeks. The Cowboys travel to play in four cold-weather cities from Nov. 23 to the end of the season. The personnel isn't up to snuff, not with Sean Lee missing for the entire season, the lack of a bonafide sack artist and uncertainty at safety. I can't see the defense improving enough to make a sizable difference, and I don't think the roster is deep enough to handle the injury issues that arise during a typical NFL campaign – and that doesn't even include the injury rashes that have plagued the Cowboys the past two seasons. I think this is a six or seven-win team in 2014, with the makings for improvement in the seasons ahead.

Nick Eatman: I don't see another 8-8. I'm not seeing the doom that everyone else seems to see with this team. I think back to last year's defense and how bad it was. This team still was an interception away from winning the division. I think this offense will be a Top 5 offense and the defense will be closer to average. I don't see a really good defense but I think it will hold its own at times. The offense should be even more balanced with a chance to be very dynamic. Of course, Tony Romo has to stay healthy but that's the case with every team in the NFL. I see the Cowboys improving their record slightly, probably around 9-7. Who knows if that'll be good enough to get them in the playoffs but it would've been for the last three years. So I think this team will be very competitive despite a tough-looking schedule and this offense will give them a chance to win every game.

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Bryan Broaddus:In just looking at this on paper, it appears to me that this schedule does them absolutely no favors and with all those division games on the road in the final six weeks of the season with Chicago and Indianapolis in the mix as well, it just doesn't play well. I am not a fan of the stretch of games that start in St. Louis and include games with New Orleans, Houston, Seattle, New York Giants and Arizona as well because they are all nightmares to have to deal with offensively. I like what this team has done on the scouting front with the talent they have added at certain positions to help with the depth. Where this season could very well hinge is on how well that Rod Marinelli and this defensive staff can get this defense up and running. If they can finish in the top half, then my fears are wrong and they will be better than I thought. But if they are once again in these games that are shoot-outs, then I believe there will be too many struggles to overcome. Let's see how this plays out on the field and not on paper.

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