The author of *America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys, Sullivan also writes a new column in each issue of Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here*.
Everyone has a prediction. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone seems to be a football fan this time of the year. And alas, everyone wants to tell you about his fantasy football team, even though no one really cares.
So here are my predictions for the season ahead, highlighted by my Super Bowl 50 (not using Roman numerals this year) selection of the Dallas Cowboys defeating the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, the time has come to add the sixth Lombardi Trophy to the collection. And make no mistake, while this is the most talented Cowboys team since that second title winner under Jimmy Johnson, some 22 seasons ago, it's another NFL nowadays. Has been for a few decades, since the creation of free agency and the salary cap for the sole purpose of preventing another dominant dynasty like the Triplets and Company.
Translation: Yes, the Cowboys could certainly win it all, but there are others right there: Indy, Seattle, New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Denver, maybe Philadelphia or Baltimore. Another Orlando Scandrick-type, top-10 player lost for the season and Dallas will be fortunate to make the playoffs, never mind win it all. That's the parity in which we now exist.
Still, that's my Super Bowl prediction. Have never picked them in my previous seven seasons covering the team and who knows, may never pick them again. As Jerry Jones has told me on multiple occasions, "You only have so many of these windows, and you never know how long they are going to be open."
This time around, though, there isn't another team with the top-tier talent and depth across the board, a top-five quarterback, a top-five wideout, a top-five tight end, the premier offensive line in the game, what could/should be a top-five defensive line by around Halloween and a top-three kicker. Sean Lee is a Pro Bowl-talent at linebacker and the secondary is decent, even minus Scandrick. There's not a weakness. Not sure anyone would trade coaching staffs with another NFL team, either.
My official prediction is a repeat 12-4. Yes, the schedule is more difficult, and the Cowboys certainly aren't taking anyone by surprise this time around. Still, the offense should be on the same level as a season ago – please don't start with the ridiculous running back hysteria; it's like saying Chia Pets are more entertaining than a smart phone, it's that ridiculous – and the defense, especially the pass rush, should be significantly improved. Like more than double the 27 sacks from a season ago. And ask any defensive coordinator, at any level, any strong defense starts with a pass rush. There is no such thing as an elite defense without a top-third pass rush. Does. Not. Exist.
And while it might not be there from the opening kickoff, Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and Tyrone Crawford are going to cause some serious havoc.
We constantly hear about winning the competition up front, and the offensive line did that in 14 of 16 games last season. The result was 12 wins and DeMarco Murray breaking a plethora of records. Tony Romo remained relatively healthy, too. There's a chance that defensive front could have some games like that this season, more so beginning in Week 5 when Hardy returns, and Gregory and Lawrence should only improve with reps, the group as a whole with continuity.
Here are five more predictions for the season ahead:
- The NFC East, and this is hardly going rogue, is ridiculously top heavy. Philly and Dallas should combine to win 23, 24 games; the Giants and Washington should lose 23-25 between them. The latter is a mess with Robert Griffin III, previously known as Washington's franchise quarterback. He was traded for three first-round picks and a second, but is now third on the depth chart. Also think Sam Bradford has a really nice season, maybe 30 touchdown passes and fewer than 10 picks.
- In the latest installment of "we have no drama so let's create some," the running back situation is just fine, thanks. The Cowboys will not, repeat not for a single snap of the football in 2015, miss DeMarco Murray. Think Darren McFadden will see more carries than Joseph Randle on Sunday night, and if he shows capable of handling the bulk of the load, his looks will increase with each game. He can catch the ball, too, which makes him valuable in Scott Linehan's offense. One other quick note on McFadden and all the talk of injuries: He played 16 games last season, and a combined 22 the two before that. He's not exactly Mr. Glass. The problem was the inept Oakland offensive line.
- Maybe it's wishful thinking, but Sean Lee plays 14 games, leads the team in tackles, registers his first career sack, tops the team with six interceptions and is named to his first Pro Bowl. The football gods owe him a relatively healthy season, although many forget he started 15 games in 2011. Talked to Lee earlier in the week about what his emotions will be in the moments before kickoff on Sunday night, "I think, no doubt, I'm going to be pretty excited, the emotions are going to be pretty high, but I have to stay level-headed and focused at the same time. I haven't played a regular-season game in a while, but at the same time, I've played a lot of football in my life. After a series or two, I'm thinking it's going to be like it always has been. Being back on that field, though, is going to mean a lot for me. There's no doubt about that."
- Jeremy Mincey led the team with six sacks in 2014. The last time a Cowboys team leader tallied fewer was Bob Lilly in 1963. (Yes, we know sacks wasn't an official statistic until 1982; someone went back and watched the game tapes.) Keep in mind that Derrick Thomas once had seven sacks in one game. Think four players have at least that many this season. Let's go with Hardy and Gregory cracking double digits, Crawford having 7.5 and earning his first Pro Bowl nod, and Lawrence flirting with that many while leading the team in forced fumbles. Also, Mincey's quote the other day is my favorite of the year so far, "To destroy a buffet, everybody got to eat."
- This and that: Andrew Luck wins the NFL MVP award; Melvin Gordon and Gregory are the Rookies of the Year; Jeff Fisher takes the Coach of the Year award; have the Rams going 11-5; Washington, Tennessee and the Jets tie for the league's worst record at 3-13. The Cowboys also have eight Pro Bowl selections: Romo, Dez, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Jason Witten, Lee and Crawford.
- Oh, one last note. Without really thinking about it, I named this word document Super Bowl or Bust. Here we go, should be a fun season.