13) What's A Realistic Outlook For Cowboys' 2013 Record?

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IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.

As we count down the days to camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.

With 13 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the expectations surrounding this 2013 team:

13) What is a realistic prognostication for the Cowboys' 2013 record?

Pessimism seems to reign in Dallas among the Cowboys fanbase these days, which is understandable given the recent trend of painfully close, disappointing seasons. Even when the Cowboys have posted strong records, such as 2007 and 2009, it has ended in lackluster fashion.

But what does that mean for 2013? The Cowboys return all the same components, and have added one or two improvements, to a dynamic offense. The defense will look vastly different from a schematic standpoint, but will at the same time use familiar personnel.

Is it fair to expect a marked improvement from two straight 8-8 seasons? Is it pessimistic to expect more of the same mediocrity, or even regression? Is it too optimistic to hope for a return to the postseason?

In the NFL, that's never a question you can expect to answer firmly in the summer. Five of the 12 teams to make the playoffs in 2012-13 were not expected by many to be there in the preseason. Several teams with playoff aspirations, as is always the case, disappointed.

The Cowboys played seven games against six 2011 playoff teams during the 2012 season (two games against the Giants), and they came out of it with a 3-4 record. Against 2011 teams with a losing record, they managed a 3-3 mark, which leaves room for a 2-1 performance against 8-8 squads,

If this logic is anything to go on, it's worth noting that the Cowboys play only five playoff teams this go around – though in the case of the Giants and Bears, they play another two teams who posted winning records but failed to make the playoffs.

Unfortunately, none of this is going to mean much until games start happening. But if you assume the Cowboys are a win or two away from a playoff appearance, as has been the case, consider this: eight of the 12 teams to make the playoffs in 2012 boasted improved win totals from 2011.

That in itself is hardly amazing, but the amount of improvement is certainly eye-catching. Of the eight playoff teams with improved records, six of them won three or more games than the year before. Indianapolis and Minnesota saw their win totals increase by an incredible nine and seven games, respectively. [embedded_ad]

Some of that can be attributed by improved quarterback play – which was the story in Denver, Washington and Indianapolis. But that can't account for everything. A few lucky breaks, a few clutch plays and perhaps an un-looked for hero is all it might take to turn an 8-8 Cowboys season into a 10-6 record.

Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 13:

  • The number 13 is tied with No. 8 as the second least-assigned number in Cowboys history. Only two players have ever been No. 13 for Dallas: quarterback Jerry Rhome, who wore it from 1965-68, and kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who wore it in 2006. The only number to be worn by fewer players is No. 74, which was only worn by Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly.
  • Lilly was noteworthy for spending his entire career with the Cowboys after being selected as their first-ever draft pick in 1961. Lilly was taken from TCU as the No. 13 overall pick in that draft.
  • 13 is the franchise record for touchdowns scored by a rookie, held by both Bob Hayes (1965) and Tony Dorsett (1977).
  • Emmitt Smith led the Cowboys in rushing for a franchise record 13 consecutive seasons – three more than Dorsett's mark of 10. Smith was the team's leading rusher during every year of his career in Dallas.
  • Deion Sanders averaged 13.3 yards per return during his stint as the Cowboys' punt returner – best mark in team history.
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