It's almost time for the Dallas Cowboys to take on the Arizona Cardinals in their second preseason game of 2021, but let's be honest, that's not what everyone is truly waiting for. All eyes are on that glowing red circle drawn on the calendar around the date of Sept. 9, because that's when Dak Prescott is set to make his official return to the NFL after going down in Week 5 last season with a fractured ankle, and doing it against Tom Brady and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers only increases the lumens on the limelight aimed at Dallas.
Prescott is currently recovering from a shoulder strain the team says won't impact his availability for Week 1, and it's also not equivalent to the sprained AC joint he played through in 2019 when he nearly bested Tony Romo's franchise record for most passing yards in a single season, so when he says he'll be fine -- there's reason to believe him. And assuming he is, the stage is set to lob three bold predictions for the Cowboys this coming season, with one having nothing to do with the offense at all.
It could be afor Dallas in 2021 -- says Prescott -- and the below would guarantee it.
1. Dak Prescott wins NFL MVP and CPOTY
You're going to begin hearing a lot of newfound predictions in the coming weeks regarding Prescott potentially being the frontrunner for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2021, but just know this is a prediction I pushed to the center of the table back in October -- having full confidence the two-time Pro Bowler would overcome his fractured ankle. And so he has, with the ankle being arguably stronger than it was before the injury, leaving only his shoulder strain as an issue to work through. He has plenty of time to rest it for Week 1, though, and it's already "improved dramatically" to this point, so when Prescott begins his reckoning in September, he'll likely pick up where he left off as one of the most prolific passers in the game (seriously, check the numbers) and that will not only earn him CPOTY honors this coming season, but also his first league MVP honor to go along with it.
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And playing well enough to do those two things should also have the Cowboys where they want to be when February rolls around, which is everyone's top goal. With the bevy of weapons at his disposal -- add in a full traditional offseason to train with CeeDee Lamb and an extremely motivated Ezekiel Elliott -- and the return of Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin to protect him with tight end Blake Jarwin back in the mix with a much-improved Dalton Schultz and, well, Prescott is set to prove why he was worth every ruble of that historic contract he signed in March.
2. The WR hat trick
When the Cowboys made the decision to draft CeeDee Lamb in 2020, they had images of sugarplums dancing through their heads in regards to what the offense could be. After all, it was a unit that -- without Lamb -- was the No. 1-overall offense in the NFL the season prior, so it stood to reason the inclusion of a dynamic talent like Lamb could only make it better, right? Right, but then Prescott was lost for the season after only five weeks and things stalled in a major way thanks to a carousel of poor quarterback play, but let's use that for some perspective here. Because even with the combined tragedy of play perpetrated upon the Cowboys offense by Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci (Garrett Gilbert was the only one who showed some moxie), and obvious disconnects between the receivers and the QBs, the Cowboys nearly had three 1,000-yard receivers last season.
Amari Cooper had a career-best year in receptions (92) en route to 1,114 yards, Lamb fell only 65 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark (935) and Michael Gallup finished with 843 yards on the year. Well, Prescott is back, Cooper is still Cooper, Lamb is set to be even better than he was as a record-breaking rookie and Gallup is entering a contract year that will see him (and Lamb) move around more and increase their respective route trees. This is the year the Cowboys perform the WR hat trick, with all three wideouts breaking the coveted mark in 2021 -- only the sixth time it's ever happened in NFL history.
3. A top-10 defense?!
How's this for bold -- going from one of the worst defenses in the history of the franchise to one of the best in the NFL in only one year and with a change at defensive coordinator? It's not impossible in Dallas, even if it's difficult for some to fathom before things get underway in September. Fact is, there's reason to believe they'll improve but maybe not to this degree, but if Dan Quinn can even remotely get things clicking in a way that makes you see a flash or two of what he built in Seattle, then the Cowboys defense might finally be done with being a laughingstock. A dedication to the safety position, an all-out brawl at the LB position that is now headlined by first-round pick Micah Parsons and a mission to drastically improve the run game hints at the needle pointing north.
There were other changes as well this offseason, one example being fully unleashing George Edwards to go hands-on with the linebackers (after convincing him to stick around) and Aden Durde replacing Jim Tomsula on the defensive line -- along withopposite DeMarcus Lawrence, and more. It's a completely different energy in the locker room on defense than this time one year ago, and all things considered, the unit should realistically buoy to the top half (16th+) of the league by midseason. That's not bold enough though, so the prediction here is top-10 -- because let's have some fun.