Ron Chenoy

The Dallas Cowboys have high hopes for the 2021 NFL season, with two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott returning from both a season-ending ankle injury in 2020 and a mild shoulder strain in training camp, it stands to reason the Cowboys offense will return to the form that saw it ranked as the best in the league in 2019 as well as through the first four weeks of last season. The dismissal of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hints greatly at the impatience living within Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones, who wasted no time firing Nolan after just one season of watching his defense become the worst in franchise history in several categories. 

Enter Dan Quinn, former head coach of the Atlanta and -- more notably as a defensive coordinator -- the former engineer of the famed "Legion of Boom" with the Seattle Seahawks, and it's a move praised by both the front office and the locker room. If Quinn can get the defense in Dallas to upgrade to average or better, particularly considering offseason additions that include first-round pick Micah Parsons and talented ballhawk Malik Collins, and if the offense can do away with the focus errors of last season and use the return of healthy starters like Prescott, Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Blake Jarwin; they stand to be the team to beat in the NFC East.

They will have competition though, to say the least, and how they handle it both within the division and outside of it will tell the full story on if they're contenders or pretenders. William Hill Sportsbook has the Cowboys' Over/Under at 9.5 games, while having them as 6.5-point underdogs at the Buccaneers in Week 1. Can the Cowboys bounce back from an injury-, coaching- and pandemic-fueled 6-10 season to jump over those odds? Or will they find a way to get in their own way in the NFC East? 

Let's take a shot at predicting how it'll all shake out.

Need a quick betting primer on your favorite NFL team for the 2021 season? Here are links to schedule breakdowns for all 32 clubs.

Key schedule observations

  • Matchups with both Super Bowl LV teams
  • Coast-to-coast travel from Week 1 to Week 2
  • Three-game homestand in first five weeks
  • Just one three-game away stretch
  • Five prime-time games plus Thanksgiving
  • Week 7 bye
  • NFC East opponents: 17-30-1
    Non-NFC East opponents: 88-87

Toughest stretch

You could point at a few marks on the schedule to determine this, but there's one that stands out mightily.

Sure, they'll open the year with the challenge of leaving Dallas to meet the defending Super Bowl champs in their own backyard, and then travel just over 2,500 miles to face the Los Angeles Chargers, and then there's the fact they visit the furious loser of Super Bowl LV in Missouri before heading to the equally hostile environment of New Orleans only two weeks later, but take a look at the month of December. It's quite likely the fate of the NFC East comes down to the gauntlet of interdivision games that await as the mercury in the thermostat begins to take a nosedive. 

The Cowboys travel to Washington directly after their visit to the Saints, for their first matchup of the year with the Football Team. They'll then leap over to MetLife Stadium for their final regular-season battle with the New York Giants before returning to FedEx Field for a rematch only two games later. Follow this with what will be a daunting task in the desert against Kyler Murray and a loaded Arizona Cardinals offense (and defense) only to finish out the year with a finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Cowboys better stack wins early and often to buffer against what could be an absolutely brutal winter stretch. It's quite possible they'll have to win the division to get into the tournament, and they can't afford to hang all of their hopes on running the table in December; because if they're not prepared, well, the table will run them.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

Week 1 - Thursday, Sept. 9
Location: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Florida)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
2019 record: 11-5
Series record: 15-4, Cowboys lead

This is the opposite of the seemingly perennial (and boring) rerun of the Cowboys opening their season against the Giants. Instead, they'll be part of a proverbial NFL fireworks display when they head to Florida to lock horns with the Buccaneers. Hot off of a beatdown of the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, it's tough to believe the usual hangover will apply to Tom Brady -- several shots of avocado tequila notwithstanding. For not only is Brady now working on trying to land an eighth ring (inhale that for a moment), but the Buccaneers were also able to retain every single free agent of note that helped them lift their first Lombardi in two decades. They're locked and reloaded and know who they are, the latter being absent in Dallas at the moment. 

The return of Dak Prescott is a massive leverage gain for the Cowboys, and it does give their offense back their identity that was completely absent when he wasn't on the field. Defensively, however, it's a much different story. This will mark the first game of Dan Quinn's time as the team's defensive coordinator, and even if he does right the ship and gets the defense humming before the end of the year -- assuming it'll be at full steam as early as Week 1 and against Brady and Co. is a stretch. Expect Prescott and the high-powered offense (who will presumably have both starting tackles on the field to protect their prized QB) to give the visceral Bucs defense one hell of a challenge, but Brady's simply too wily and has too many offensive weapons to lose a season opener at home against a Cowboys defense that still needs to figure itself out.

They won't have starting tackle Neville Gallimore for this one, and that could be the defining factor.

Prediction: 27-21, Buccaneers

Los Angeles Chargers 

Week 2 - Sunday, Sept. 19
Location: SoFi Stadium (Los Angeles)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2019 record: 7-9
Series record: 6-5, Cowboys lead

There won't be any time to think about what happened in Tampa, unless the Cowboys do it on the 4.5 hour flight across the U.S. as they ready to take on the Chargers in L.A.. The trek across three time zones will definitely take a bit of a toll on the Cowboys, as will the presence of Justin Herbert -- a young talent who's shown the ability to take over games. Herbert isn't Brady though, and that's where the still-forming Cowboys defense might find an edge, namely in his youth. A usually takeaway-thirsty Dallas team found its groove in that respect as the 2020 season came to its conclusion, and the savvy mind of Quinn will likely concoct things that -- unlike Brady in Week 1 -- Herbert didn't see as a rookie. He's not turnover-prone though, having thrown only 10 interceptions to 31 touchdowns in Year 1, so when/if he does make a mistake, the Cowboys must capitalize and give Prescott and Co. as many extra chances as is possible.

That's because the offense will also have their hands full against the Chargers pass rush led by Joey Bosa, along with an opportunistic secondary. The problem for L.A. is it doesn't know if Derwin James -- an all-world talent -- will hit the ground running following another major injury, or if he'll need a moment to find his bearings in actual games and not simply camp practices. The advantage here leans to the Cowboys in what could be a close game, and especially considering you can throw home field advantage out of the window, knowing just how familiar Jerry Jones' bunch is with the L.A. area (hint: training camp). 

Prediction: 30-20, Cowboys

Philadelphia Eagles 

First meeting: Week 3 (AT&T Stadium) - Monday, Sept. 27, 8:15 p.m.
Second meeting: Week 18 (Lincoln Financial Field) - Sunday, Jan. 9, 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 4-11
Series Record: 70-54, Cowboys lead

Stringing together wins early in the season will be key, as noted above, and grabbing a win against a division rival in September will ultimately matter in December. Their first go at it will be against the Eagles, who have a ton of question marks this offseason. With the decision to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts following his benching for Jalen Hurts, it's now Hurts' show in Eastern Pennsylvania, but the jury is out on if he's the ready to be the face of the franchise. He went 1-3 as starter in 2020 (though you could extrapolate for now-fired head coach Doug Pedersen pulling him from the team's final game to allegedly ensure a loss), with one of his losses having been against the Cowboys in a game where rookie Trevon Diggs teed off on him to the tune of two interceptions.

Diggs now has the pleasure of seemingly having assistance with the CB additions made this offseason and in an upgraded linebacker corps that boasts Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox, along with what the Cowboys hope will be a healthy Leighton Vander Esch and a should-be motivated Jaylon Smith -- the latter two likely playing for their right to remain in Dallas in 2022. If the run defense and pass rush are bolstered as Quinn hopes they've been following free agency and the draft, it'll be a tall task for Hurts to march into Arlington and out with a win, even if he does now have DeVonta Smith and safety Anthony Harris is now patrolling an otherwise questionable defensive backfield. By the time the rematch rolls around, it's possible the Eagles will need the win much more than the Cowboys, and would have the added motivation of trying to avoid a sweep on their own field. 

Week 3 Prediction: 38-17, Cowboys
Week 18 Prediction: 24-20, Eagles

Carolina Panthers

Week 4 - Sunday, Oct. 3 
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 5-11
Series record: 9-5, Cowboys lead

Having not been at their best at home in 2020, the Cowboys have a great chance to rectify that in 2021 as they get into the meat of a three-game home stand to open the season. Assuming they dispatch with the rival Eagles, they can establish their first three-game win streak of the year when the Panthers come to town. Like the Eagles, the Panthers are yet another team with questions abound and most certainly at the most important position in football. Things did not go as planned in Matt Rhule's first year as head coach with Teddy Bridgewater under center, and so they traded for Sam Darnold and sent Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos. With the jury out on if Darnold is salvageable or not, as he reunites with Robby Anderson, this is a game wherein the Cowboys can add fuel to rumors he isn't. And let's not forget how much fun Darnold had against the Cowboys when he led the Jets over them, and after returning from a bout with mononucleosis -- something you can view as motivation for a Dallas defense that hasn't forgotten whatsoever.

They're looking for revenge against Darnold and would be wise to get it when he's still trying to figure out Rhule's system, and the fact Luke Kuechly is retired. The biggest threat to the Cowboys will be the return of the cyborg known as Christian McCaffrey, in a matchup that will see him square off against Ezekiel Elliott. Something tells me Elliott will be all in on trying to send a message that he's the best RB in the game, instead of letting McCaffrey walk away with that honor and a smile after stealing one at AT&T Stadium.

Prediction: 35-14, Cowboys

New York Giants 

First meeting: Week 5 (AT&T Stadium) - Sunday, Oct. 10, 4:25 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 15 (MetLife Stadium) - Sunday, Dec. 19, 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 6-10
Series Record: 69-47-2, Cowboys lead

Mounting a four-game win streak is difficult in and of itself, but even more so when you have to go through a rival who also arguably had the best offseason of the entire division -- the re-signing of Prescott aside. The Giants added wide receiver Kenny Golladay and then drafted Kadarius Toney in the first round, and still have Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton for Daniel Jones to target. Then there's the matter of the return of Saquon Barkley, who's playing to prove he's both durable and worthy of possibly setting a new bar as far as RB contracts go. Toss in the re-signing of Logan Ryan and signing of Adoree Jackson to play alongside Jabrill Peppers with a re-signed Leonard Williams and newly drafted Azeez Ojulari mounting the posts up front, and it's not difficult to see how much of a challenge the Cowboys are up against here. The key to winning this game/series will be protection up front, which would force the issue on a secondary led by James Bradberry.

This is a matchup that's flat out spicy when considering the talent in the Giants secondary versus the receiving corps of the Cowboys -- which will feature the return of Giant-killing tight end Blake Jarwin -- plus Elliott and Tony Pollard plus the addition of former Giants running back Corey Clement. Something's got to give in this matchup, and it'll probably be home field advantage that helps tilt the scale in one direction or the other. That and the fact Jones, when under extreme duress, has proven he's willing to give up the ball. Much like the 2020 season, but with more Tabasco involved (only it won't be in anyone's eye), the Cowboys take the home game but lose the away -- in a clash that can be viewed as two frontrunners for the division crown refusing to concede an inch.

Week 5 Prediction:  24-21, Cowboys
Week 15 Prediction:  27-24, Giants

New England Patriots

Week 6 - Sunday, Oct. 17 
Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Massachusetts)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET 
2019 record: 7-9
Series record: 7-6, Cowboys lead

It's not Cam Newton the Cowboys will face in this one, but instead rookie first-round pick Mac Jones. Regardless of why you might think Newton is out of New England, it doesn't change the fact he is, and while Jones has the chops to be a great NFL quarterback -- the swap favors a Cowboys defense who now gets to go against a first-year guy who isn't proficient in reading professional defenses (especially those designed by Quinn). The Patriots have Belichick, but Belichick doesn't play between the lines, and what they don't have again yet is a dominant passing attack capable of applying pressure to an opposing secondary (and Julian Edelman is now retired), nor do they have a defense that sparks fear in the heart of an offense -- especially one as potent as the Cowboys.

Will Stephon Gilmore still be around come Week 6? And, if so, will he be both completely healthy and not distracted by issues that are present currently (contract) and may still be so when this game arrives? It's difficult to fathom the Patriots not bouncing back after a very poor Tom Brady-less season last year, but in a contest wherein they might have to score a lot of points to get the win? There's only so much Belichick's coaching prowess can mask. Prescott and the Cowboys didn't perform well in low-scoring 13-9 loss at Gillette Stadium in 2019, but they played quite pedestrian and still nearly won ... with Brady in a Patriots uniform. I think you see where I'm going with this.

Prediction: 40-17, Cowboys

Minnesota Vikings

Week 8 - Sunday, Oct. 31
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
2019 record: 7-9
Series Record: 17-15, Cowboys lead

It's always a fun time when the Cowboys and Vikings get together, but only ever for the side that doesn't suffer heartbreak. Be it Dez Bryant's catch in 2016 that helped Prescott put the Vikings to bed or CeeDee Lamb doing it in 2020 while wearing the exact same No. 88, the Cowboys have often found a way to win games in Minneapolis. I fully expect this one to be another nail-biter that will either turn the screws on both defenses or see both teams succumb to the other's. For while Lamb has proven himself the real deal in his record-breaking rookie year, Justin Jefferson has done the same, and that's a budding silently loud rivalry that will might soon match the one between Dalvin Cook and Elliott -- the two quietly wanting to outplay each other at every turn, as is usually the case when two of the best RBs in the league meet. There's more protection this time around for Kirk Cousins, but Prescott has his starting tackles back along with his starting tight end and a backup in Dalton Schultz that has proven he can be one as well.

No matter how you spin this contest, it should get the juices flowing, and it's one that could also help determine seeding if one or both of the clubs earn their way into the playoffs. The Vikings want revenge for 2020, but have to hope they can either get to Prescott and assume he won't take off and run as he would in the past (he likely will, but will slide going forward) and that Cousins can duplicate or better his effort in the 31-28 loss from last season, when he threw for 314 yards and three TDs with no INTs. His defense let him down in that contest though, and might again in this one. 

Prediction: 37-30, Cowboys 

Denver Broncos

Week 9 - Sunday, Nov. 7
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2019 record: 5-11
Series Record: 8-5, Broncos lead

It'll be Bridgewater getting the start against the Cowboys and not Drew Lock -- assuming Bridgewater doesn't lose the job by the time this contest rolls around. On paper, while Bridgewater is arguably better, he's also had recent struggles as the starter for the Carolina Panthers in 2020 that was so subpar it caused them to cut him loose with years left on his deal to then trade with the New York Jets for Sam Darnold. As such, Bridgewater will be challenging with his mobility, but potentially not much more.

Defensively, the Cowboys will face both of their top two CB prospects from this year's draft in 2021, having gone up against Jaycee Horn in Week 4 and now Patrick Surtain II in Week 9. Similar to Horn in Carolina, though, Surtain is simply a key piece of a bigger puzzle that Denver hasn't completely figured out yet. His presence will definitely help embolden a defense that's already very dangerous when healthy, and who'll get both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb back this season, but Chubb underwent another procedure on his ankle so put a pin in that assumption for now. Still, inking safety Justin Simmons to a long-term deal keeps the heart of the secondary around and Prescott better be aware of his whereabouts on every dropback -- along with that of Surtain, Miller, Chubb and others, such as newly acquired All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller

Prescott goes down a couple times in this game, but Bridgewater makes mistakes that give Dallas plenty of opportunities to exhaust the Broncos defense en route to a potential rout. 

Prediction: 27-3, Cowboys 

Atlanta Falcons

Week 10 - Sunday, Nov. 8
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 4-12
Series record: 18-11, Cowboys lead

Revenge is a dish best served ice cold, and Quinn is bringing a deep freezer to this game. After all, it's the Falcons who fired him in 2020 and they didn't wait until the offseason to do it. That left him wondering what his next move would be, and then the Cowboys came a'calling with the job as defensive coordinator to replace Mike Nolan. Thus far, the former Legion of Boom engineer has put his stamp on the roster-building process -- showing a lot of value in the ability to stop the run, in particular. He's also convinced the club to focus more on ability to dominate on the field and less on the supposed "Right Kind of Guy" (RKG) that was so prevalent in the days of Jason Garrett. For the Falcons, that spells trouble, as if they needed any more of it this year. 

By the way, Julio Jones isn't running out of the locker room in Atlanta anymore, and that's kind of a big deal.

So while the Cowboys will face first-round pick Kyle Pitts, they'll do so without having to account for Jones in the contest. Calvin Ridley is a threat as well, yes, but the absence of Jones would be the WR equivalent of facing only Gallup and Lamb -- a dangerous combo made lethal when you add a talent like Cooper. Therefore, without Jones, the Falcons offense is much more manageable, and Mike Davis (while talented) shouldn't present the same challenge as having faced both CMC and Cook already to this point. And so it goes that not only does Quinn know the Falcons inside-out, but Atlanta has a new head coach, a rookie primary offensive weapon, a questionable defense and will probably have traded Jones away. I don't see this ending any better than when the Cowboys defeated Atlanta last season to the tune of 40-39 with the help of a watermelon kick.

Prediction: 41-23, Cowboys

Kansas City Chiefs

Week 11 - Sunday, Nov. 21 
Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Missouri)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2019 record: 14-2
Series record: 7-4, Cowboys lead

An eight-game win streak by the Cowboys? No way, you say. Way, I reply with evidence of them having won 11 straight with Prescott leading the charge. So, no, it's not impossible, but the buck stops in Kansas City in 2021. It's good for the Cowboys that they've stacked wins to start the year, and bounced back from their opening game loss to Brady and the Buccaneers in the process, but Patrick Mahomes and the other attendee of Super Bowl LV is also not only reloaded, but they've arguably upgraded over a team that went 14-2 in 2020. They've put what can only be labeled as a Great Wall in front of Mahomes after seeing him bullied in the Big Game, and that's going to make it that much more difficult for the Cowboys pass rush to get home on a player that, when healthy, routinely makes eye-popping plays to a nuclear arsenal of weapons even when he is under duress. 

Add to the fact Mahomes plays out of his mind at Arrowhead Stadium, and Dallas is in for a heavyweight bout so they better wear their 8 oz. gloves for this one. There's just no way to ever relax against Mahomes, and a defensive unit that both gets after opposing QBs and takes the ball away ties to a special teams unit that -- thanks to Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman -- can break a game open at any given moment. Can the Cowboys win this game? Absolutely they can, much like when they marched into Mercedes-Benz Superdome and upset the undefeated Saints in 2009. So the question isn't can they, it's will they, and odds are the answer is the defense simply isn't ready yet for the fine-tuned Chiefs; but expect Prescott to put on his cape and try to save the day.

Prediction: 38-28, Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders 

Week 12 - Thursday, Nov. 25 (Thanksgiving)
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
2019 record: 8-8
Series record: 6-6 tie

When the Raiders said they believed in Derek Carr, they weren't kidding around. They didn't make a run at Russell Wilson despite being named in his list of four potential landing spots, and blew past others like Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and then Teddy Bridgewater. This is probably because for all of his faults, Carr isn't the problem in Las Vegas. Fact is, they have had a hell of a time trying to get their receiving corps to step up and if not for tight end Darren Waller, Carr would be in dire straits. This led to head coach Mike Mayock calling the bunch out, but this works in favor of a Cowboys team who believes they've upgraded their passing defense -- with second-round pick Kelvin Joseph and former second-round pick Trevon Diggs provided the weight on the outside while nickel corner Jourdan Lewis gets ready to help rookie linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox work on containing Waller.

Delete Waller from the equation and get a handle on running back Josh Jacobs -- who now has Kenyan Drake as his tag team partner -- to put Carr on an island. Neither of those two tasks will be easy, but they're doable if the Cowboys can set the edge to keep Drake and Jacobs funneled to the interior where Brent Urban, Neville Gallimore (who should be back by now, and high-ceiling rookie Quinton Bohanna can clog the lanes. The formula here isn't rocket science for the Cowboys, and not nearly as complex as the week before when Mahomes and the Chiefs asked them to solve an equation involving stability derivatives while using permanent marker. After an exam with that level of difficulty, this should feel like an elementary school math quiz. 

Prediction: 44-23, Cowboys

New Orleans Saints

Week 13 - Thursday, Dec. 2
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
2019 record: 12-4
Series record: 17-13, Cowboys lead

Drew Brees isn't running out of the locker room in 2021, and that's a huge problem for the Saints. Without Brees in the mix, it's on Jameis Winston to figure out how to replace a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who -- no matter what the circumstances -- always found a way to at least keep the Saints in striking distance when games were getting away from them. And the question at quarterback applies pressure to players like wideout Michael Thomas, but there's no guarantee he takes the field in this game, be it by injury or displeasure with the organization. The biggest bullseye has to be placed on all-world running back Alvin Kamara, whose ability to change games will truly be tested when opposing defenses no longer have to account for Brees' ability. 

So what does this mean for the Cowboys? 

It means they could and should throw haymakers at a mistake-prone Winston or unproven Hill, and generate takeaways to help keep Kamara, Thomas (maybe) and tight end Jared Cook on the sideline to help Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense exhaust defensive end Cameron Jordan and his compatriots on defense. They'll have to keep an eye out for cornerback Marshon Lattimore and a familiar foe in safety Malcolm Jenkins, but it'll be a lot to ask the Saints defense to bottle up the Cowboys offense long enough to see Winston throw a backbreaking fourth quarter interception anyway. The retirement of Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson also looms large here, who was expected to start in 2021 but instead won't be around to try and help stop Prescott.

Prediction: 42-16, Cowboys

Washington Football Team

First meeting: Week 14 (FedEx Field) - Sunday, Dec. 12, 1 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 16 (AT&T Stadium) - Sunday, Dec. 26, 8:20 p.m. ET (Sunday Night Football)
2019 record: 7-9
Series Record: 73-47-2, Cowboys lead

If the team without a name wants to win this contest, it's going to need a Herculean effort from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Boasting one of the best defensive fronts in all of football, even with team legend Ryan Kerrigan heading to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, the name of the game for Dallas will be to keep Prescott upright and clean. Should they do that, they'll be able to put the mostly questionable secondary through the paces, and Ron Rivera prepared for such an issue when he signed William Jackson, III (2021) and Kendall Fuller (2020) to the club to help aid Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins in the effort. Things are still tenuous at the linebacker position in Washington though, and they're hoping Jamin Davis can be an impact player, but he could see himself outdone by Micah Parsons and/or Jabril Cox on the other side of the ball. 

It's Parsons and Cox who could combine with Lawrence, Gregory and a presumably upgraded secondary -- with safety Donovan Wilson coming off of a breakout season -- can harass Fitzpatrick and prevent any magic while making him reveal the version that's been known to throw an interception or several; they'll have done their job. Because unlike the other three teams in the NFC East, Washington lacks a franchise QB, and have the added issue of having now been forced to wave goodbye to starting tackles Trent Williams and Morgan Moses. That's a recipe for disaster no matter how talented the defensive front is, and Prescott carries a career record of 7-1 against Washington into the 2021 season -- a mark he'll have a chance at pushing to 9-1 before it's all said and done.

Week 14 Prediction: 34-9, Cowboys
Week 16 Prediction: 30-13, Cowboys

Arizona Cardinals 

Week 17 - Sunday, Jan. 2
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 1 p.m. ET 
2019 record: 8-8
Series record: 56-33, Cowboys lead

The last time the Cowboys saw Kyler Murray it was in 2020 and the former Rookie of the Year was leading his team to a 38-10 shellacking of Dallas at AT&T Stadium. The problem is Murray isn't simply an arm talent, of which he has plenty of, but also a speedy mobile threat, and mobile quarterbacks have been known to give the Cowboys fits in the past. This might be solved with the LB additions, but until further notice, Murray is still a problem. That's a safe assumption even before you start naming his weapons -- namely DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald (???), Andy Isabella and impressive talent in rookie Rondale Moore. They have also tried to make sure they have prowess at the RB position, with Chase Edmonds leading the way in complement to a newly-acquired James Conner. It's a handful to deal with, as the Cowboys found out even without Moore and Conner in the mix last year.

Flipping the coin to the defensive side of the ball, well, stop me if you've heard of this guy before: J.J. Watt. The future first ballot Hall of Fame pass rusher negotiated his release from the Houston Texans and stunned the football world when he announced he had signed with the Cardinals, creating a dynamic duo with Chandler Jones. Yes, Jones is coming off of a season-ending injury, but he's expected to be fully healthy and is a wrecking ball on the field and Budda Baker and Isaiah Simmons help stabilize what's going on behind them. Given durability issues with Tyron Smith, the Cowboys better hope he's on the field for this one when Week 15 rolls around, or it could be a very, very long day for Prescott; and that means the offense as a whole might stall. Overall, this is a bad matchup for the Cowboys on paper (especially since Arizona will likely need this game to keep pace atop a super-competitive NFC West), and that's why a prediction in May has to be they'll lose their second straight to Murray, this time in the desert, but there's a chance it won't impact their odds of winning the NFC East -- assuming things have unfolded as I laid out in Week 1 through Week 16. 

But they better shake off the vibes of a two-game losing streak heading into the playoffs.

Prediction: 31-24, Cardinals

Final Cowboys 2020 record: 12-5
Final conference record: 8-4
Final division record: 4-2