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The Dallas Cowboys recorded one of their finest regular season campaigns since the turn of the millennium, winning 13 matches to clinch the number one seed in the NFC.
Expectations for the 2016 season were dampened when Tony Romo suffered a back injury before the start of the campaign, ruling him out for up to 10 weeks.
Rookie Dak Prescott was thrust into the starting role alongside fellow first-year player Ezekiel Elliott, with the burden of leading one of the NFL’s most illustrious franchises back to the playoffs.
The duo were nothing short of outstanding during the regular season, with Elliott rushing for a Cowboys rookie record 1,631 yards, earning a first-team All-Pro berth.
Prescott was equally as impressive, ousting Romo from the starting role even when he returned from injury due to his excellent displays.
Although the campaign ended in a first-round playoff defeat to the Green Bay Packers on home soil – there are plenty of reasons for Dallas supporters to be buoyant over the future of the club.
We’ll now look back at the 2016 campaign of the Cowboys and see where they can improve next term to advance further in the post-season.
When Romo was ruled out for 10 weeks, many Cowboys’ supporters feared the worst due to the awful performances they put forward in the 2015 campaign without him at quarterback.
However, Prescott proved from the off that would not be the case in 2016, with a solid outing against the New York Giants, despite losing the contest at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys got their season off the mark with a comeback win over the Washington Redskins, with newly-signed running back Alfred Morris notching the crucial score against his former club.
The running power of Elliott drove his side to comfortable victories over the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears, while the 21-year-old continued to display his excellence in a convincing victory over the Cincinnati Bengals with his third 100-yard rushing display on the bounce.
Elliott made it four on the spin against the Packers, with Prescott making important throws to outduel Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field, sending his side into the bye week at 5-1.
Dallas continued their impressive run of form, defeating their rivals the Philadelphia Eagles and their own impressive rookie – Carson Wentz – in overtime.
Prescott led his team downfield – first to send the match into an additional period with a strike to Dez Bryant before winning the match with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten.
A comfortable win over the Cleveland Browns kept them on the right track, but the signature moment to signal the passing of the torch from Romo to Prescott came in a thriller against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The lead changed several times over the course of the contest, with even Romo acknowledging that the rookie had surpassed him following a 50-yard strike to Bryant before two late scores from Elliott secured the win, despite the best efforts of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.
Jason Garrett’s men battled past the Baltimore Ravens, the Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings to put them on course for the number one seed in the playoffs, with Prescott and Elliott continuing to excel.
The Giants inflicted only the second defeat on the club in the campaign, nullifying the threat of the quarterback and the running back in a 10-7 win at MetLife Stadium.
The setback did not bother the Cowboys as they bounced back to form with a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, holding off the desperate comeback attempt of Jameis Winston late on.
A stellar second-half effort against the Detroit Lions saw the offense put up a season-high 42 points to secure the top seed in the NFC – the first time the club had achieved the feat in nine years.
Romo threw potential his last touchdown pass for the club against the Eagles on the final day, with Garrett resting his starters for the playoffs.
The Cowboys had not won the divisional round of the post-season since their last Super Bowl triumph in 1995 and were handed a tough task against the resurgent Packers.
Rodgers put the visitors in control with three touchdown drives, but Prescott proved his mettle by rallying his side back to level late in the fourth quarter.
Craziness ensued for the final 90 seconds as Mason Crosby put Green Bay ahead only for Dan Bailey to respond with just enough time for Rodgers to lead one final drive.
The quarterback made an outrageous throw to Jared Cook to allow Crosby to kick a game-winning field goal to condemn the Cowboys to defeat.
The Cowboys are set at two of the most important positions for the long term, with Prescott and Elliott looking like franchise pillars to build the side around for many years to come.
As a result, Dallas are desperately attempting to trade Romo, although they may be forced to flat-out release the veteran quarterback should no offers come forth in the coming weeks due to his high salary figure.
The Houston Texans is the probably destination to keep him out of the NFC Conference and within distance of his home in Texas.
Elsewhere, the club will need to address the right tackle position after Doug Free retired. The Cowboys have boasted the strongest offensive line in the NFL over the past three seasons, and although the 33-year-old may have been the weakest link in the chain his absence will still be felt.
Ronald Leary also left the franchise to join the Denver Broncos, but the return from injury of La’el Collins will allow them to fill that void in-house.
Defensively, Dallas have lost a lot of starters, including Brandon Carr and Barry Church from their secondary, leaving two huge gaps. Fortunately for the club, the draft is stocked with talented cornerbacks and safeties, allowing them to bring younger talent to AT&T Stadium.
Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain also departed, but the signings of Damontre Moore and Stephen Paea may be able to offset those losses.
However, the deal to keep Terrance Williams for four years, allows the NFC East outfit to keep their successful offense together for another year at the least.
Although their offense looks to be one of the most dominant in the NFL and will provide defensive coordinators headaches all season long – the departures on defense could see the Cowboys take a step back in the 2017 campaign.
Should Prescott and Elliott take their play to a completely new level then there is a strong chance they will win the NFC East once again and perhaps even clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The loss of experience, especially in the secondary could leave them exposed, with Byron Jones and Anthony Brown having to step up and become playmakers.
There’s enough talent on the roster to make a run to the post-season, but next term might just be too soon for them to make a run to the Super Bowl.
Therefore it might be prudent to wait on the price for the club to win the NFC Conference until after the draft as the 9/2 5.50 +450 4.50 4.50 -0.22 with TopBet sportsbook given the potential holes in their secondary.
Dallas Cowboys To Win NFC Conference
Odds: 9/2 5.50 +450 4.50 4.50 -0.22