Lessons Learned

Super Bowl favorites in 2008, the Cowboys lost a wild-card play-in game to the Eagles.

The core is more battle-tested. They proved that last year by picking themselves up and winning meaningful games in December when '08 made most believe they couldn't.    

"We've failed, so we've learned," James says. "The proof is in the pudding. . . . You can't forget how we didn't do what we were supposed to do in '08. You can't forget that, and we know you can't get that back, either."    

There is also less hype. That's a good thing.   

The prospect of playing for the trophy in Cowboys Stadium does cast a large shadow. But unlike '08, there?s no ?Hard Knocks? or comparisons to the Triplets teams of the ?90s. Just a stable, returning cast (20 of 22 starters and all but one assistant coach) that primarily made solely football headlines this summer.    

National expectations also aren't quite as high. Only four of 16 ESPN.com writers picked them to go to the Super Bowl (one picked a victory). Of nine SI.com analysts and writers, only one picked them to get there and win.    

The Saints, Packers and Vikings are sharing the pub, and they should. Those are very good teams, and maybe the recent injuries to Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier, along with a mixed bag in preseason from the starters, has dropped the Cowboys down the power rankings.    

We'll start to find out for sure Sunday night, but the Cowboys belong in the mix right now. Whether they take a step forward this year or not, they've got a better understanding of how to navigate a season with high expectations.    

They can thank 2008 for that.   

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