Are the Cowboys the team to beat in the NFC East after last night?

Posted on September 10, 2021

Let’s start this article off on a celebratory note: The Eagles are tied for first in the NFC East, and the Cowboys are in last place with a 0-1 record after losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-29, on a last second field goal.

The less-than-great news: Dallas looked pretty good.

Dak Prescott made his return after having suffered a compound fracture that ended his 2020 season very prematurely, and he picked up right where he left off. Prescott threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns and just one interception, racking up a QBR of 101.4.

Dallas’ top receivers also put on a show. Amari Cooper caught 13 receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns, while CeeDee Lamb had seven receptions for 104 yards and one touchdown.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ line did their job in protecting Prescott, allowing just one Tampa Bay sack (TB had 48 last year, which was tied for fourth-most in the NFL).

This was all against a defense that held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to just nine points in the Super Bowl back in February.

So yes, with one game in the books, Dallas’ offense looks like it will cause some serious mayhem in the coming months. But while some have already declared the Cowboys to be the new favorite in the NFC East, there are a number of contrasting factors to mull over before we all agree on that sentiment.

Dallas’ Offense, Defense Both Have Flaws That Could Rain On Their Parade

Dallas breaking out onto the scene early is nothing new. In fact, we just saw this show last season.

In the five games Prescott played last season before he went down, the Cowboys put up an average of 32.6 points per game. Amazing numbers, but they only went 2-3. Even with Prescott having thrown 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns at that point.

Despite the Cowboys being able to force plenty of turnovers last night (four to be exact- two fumbles and two interceptions) they were still incapable of sealing the deal despite numerous odds that would normally suggest otherwise:

The offense didn’t do any favors on finishing what the D started. Dallas also went 1-4 from the red zone, leaving ample points (that would have ultimately been the deciding factor) on the table.

So while the Cowboys’ offense continues to play at the top of their game at times, it by no means ensures victory when missed opportunities are considered.

We also have yet to mention another crucial unit: the Dallas defense. And man, they didn’t do themselves any favors last night.

Yes, they were playing Tom Brady and his offense, which boasts an incredible three-headed monster of Mike Evans/Antonio Brown/Chris Godwin, but Tampa Bay racked up a horrendous 11 penalties for 106 yards. When the opposing team is that sloppy, you need to make the most of it. That goes for both sides of the ball.

Last but not least, let’s not forget the fact that the Cowboys were up with around a 1:30 left. Even then, with a 70.1% win probability at that point (according to ESPN), Tampa Bay shot down the field with relative ease.

Dallas allowed two huge plays- passes of 20 and 24 yards- on the Buccaneers’ final drive that all but sealed their fate. For a “moral victory”, I wouldn’t be too thrilled with how the defense bowed out in the most crucial minute of the game.

It actually turned out to be a loss that was one for the record books:

Dallas won’t have the problem of playing Brady every week, but their woes won’t just suddenly disappear, either. Their defense will likely continue to be a liability this season, which seriously limits how far they will go.

There are other factors that came into play last night that could impact Dallas down the line (coaching, kicking, etc). To sum it up: this team is far from a weekly-juggernaut, as much as their debut game might suggest.

When It Comes To The NFC East, All Bets Are Off

The hardest part about predicting Dallas’ future is the fact they play in the NFC East. Any one of the four teams could outperform the rest and carve out a solid lead in the playoff race in the coming weeks.

Washington looks ready to defend their division title. They upgraded at QB (normally Ryan Fitzpatrick wouldn’t be classified as an improvement, but when you had Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen last year…) and WR. Their defense, led by Chase Young, is talented and has tons of potential.

The Eagles are a wild card. Some people will say six or seven wins (except for Andre Dillard super-fan Colin Cowherd, lol). Others think they’ll surprise many and get nine or 10 wins. It really depends on how the offense clicks.

I would say they won’t go down as easy as they did last year in some games. The energy feels very different, and it should lead to a fun squad (regardless of performance).

The Giants might have the lowest ceiling of any East team, mainly due to Daniel Jones. But even then, they’ve improved with the addition of Kenny Golladay and the return of Saquon Barkley. Their offense will be significantly better.

Until the divisional games kick off, we won’t know which team will have the upper hand in the East moving forward. Eagles fans just have to keep rooting for Dallas losses. Not that they ever stopped, of course.

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Drew Rhoades

If there’s one thing you need to know about Drew Rhoades, it’s that he knows Philadelphia sports. A graduate from Saint Joseph’s University, Rhoades has previously written about Hawk sports for The Hawk Newspaper and covered baseball at Phillies Nation. In his spare time, he loves to volunteer at his local animal shelter and bike.

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