As might be expected, the national media isn't quite sure what to do with the Cowboys in the wake of Tony Romo's back injury.
Dak Prescott's impressive preseason has generated a ton of buzz around this team. But the rookie quarterback remains just that – a rookie. It was only last year that the Cowboys slumped to a 1-11 record in games without Tony Romo. But it's safe to say that there's more cause for optimism with Prescott distributing the rock to the likes of Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and Jason Witten.
That cautious optimism is obvious when you look around the landscape of NFL Power Rankings ahead of Week 1. The national media likes Prescott enough to give the Cowboys a puncher's chance, but not enough to consider them a contender.
FoxSports put it nicely when they debuted the Cowboys at No. 12 ahead of this weekend:
"No Tony Romo? Slight problem. Unlike in years past, the Cowboys have a viable backup in Dak Prescott. He, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant can combine to keep the offense going until Romo returns, which could be as soon as Week 7 or as late as Week 10. It's unclear as of now, but the Cowboys are certain he'll play this season. If he does, Dallas can take advantage of a mediocre division with no clear front-runner."
Longtime CBS Sports writer Pete Prisco felt similarly, ranking the Cowboys one spot lower at No. 13:
"Can they hold on until Tony Romo gets back? It's up to rookie Dak Prescott. One other concern: Who provides the pass rush?"
Of course, not everyone feels as optimistic as that. Though the first two entries ranked the Cowboys in the top half of the league, the staff at NFL.com isn't quite optimistic – though they're well aware of the intrigue surrounding Prescott's first start:
"Dakmania. It lives. Dak Prescott challenged Chuck Norris to a fight once. Norris responded with a career change, giving up martial arts to push the Total Gym. OK, everyone has a right to be excited about both the Cowboys' fourth-rounder and their first-rounder (SEE: Ezekiel Elliott vs. Kam Chancellor). Still, this team is better with Tony Romo, which is why the Cowboys sit at No. 18. Prescott is still an unknown quantity, even if he had almost as many touchdowns (seven total) as incompletions (11) during the preseason. At least with Mark Sanchez onboard, the Cowboys have a quarterback capable of throwing more interceptions than incompletions. Balance."
Among the major outlets, ESPN.com easily brings up the rear, as the loss of Romo prompted them to drop Dallas as far as No. 23. It's interesting to note that the Cowboys were initially ranked No. 13, but projections change a bit when a rookie quarterback steps into the picture:
"The Cowboys took a big hit in the rankings following Tony Romo's injury, and rookie Dak Prescott is in a unique position. No rookie quarterback has started and won a season opener for the Cowboys since Roger Staubach in 1969."
That's a lot of different opinions to digest, but they all essentially say the same thing: the Cowboys have the talent to compete – provided that Prescott can hold the fort until Romo returns. That unknown variable makes them one of the league's most interesting teams to project heading into the season opener.