Cowboys predictions: How Ezekiel Elliott suspension affects record, playoff odds

Get excited about the Cowboys. After Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott had better rookie seasons than any Dallas fan could have hoped for, the Cowboys head into 2017 fresh off a 13-3 season and looking like Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.

But don't discount the tough road ahead: the Cowboys not only play in the tough NFC East, but their tough schedule includes matchups with a strong AFC West as well as the Packers, Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals. And to make matters worse, Elliott was suspended six games by the league, though he is expected to appeal the decision.

Let's break it down.

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SportsLine


Projected wins In playoffs Win division ConferenceSuper Bowl 
With Zeke for 16 games9.662.4%44.9%11.0%4.3%
With Zeke for 10 games9.256.5%39.8%9.9%3.8%

SportsLine projects the Cowboys to take a hit of about a half-game in their projection if Elliott has to sit for six games. That reduction in their outlook also brings their odds of winning the division to just under 3/2. They still have a better than even shot of making the playoffs, however.

Vegas


Win totalPlayoffsDivisionConferenceSuper Bowl
Pre-Zeke suspension9.5-180+120+45010/1

All odds via Westgate.

The Cowboys could regress three games from last season and still hit the over on this one after going 13-3 during their breakout year. Anyone considering the Under may want to think about playing them to miss the playoffs at much better value. The value isn't there for playing the Cowboys on any of the other playoff bets, according to the projections above, but the markets could definitely shift if Elliott's suspension is upheld.

Experts

Pre-Zeke suspension

Sean Wagner-McGough defends his 12-4 prediction:

It's true: the Cowboys' defense is shaky at best. But it's too tough to ignore how damn good that offense is. Dak Prescott was so good he stole Tony Romo's job. Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing. Both were rookies. Dez Bryant is still one of the game's best receivers. Jason Witten is somehow still performing at a high enough level. They have one of the best offensive lines in football. You get the point. 

Assuming Prescott and the offensive line can stay healthy, the Cowboys are going to be a difficult team to beat in 2017. It's not outrageous to expect Prescott to improve now that he has a year under his belt. And it's not outrageous to expect Zeke to thrive again considering the line he's running behind. The Cowboys weren't a lucky 13-3 team last year. They were second to New England in DVOA, per Football Outsiders. They outscored their opposition by 115 points. 

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