The Cowboys great start on the 2016 regular season has many people wondering if they can contend for the Super Bowl this year. The short answer to that question is yes; they have a chance. Vegas gives them odds of 14/1.  There are some mitigating circumstances around the team that could send their season heading in the other direction. The Cowboys are a team of strengths and weaknesses. It seems that Dallas either does something well or badly. There is no in between.

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Strengths

If you have been following the Cowboys even a little this year you know that their offense is the reason that they are winning games. They are moving the ball in an “old school” fashion by relying on the run and using high percentage pass plays. The teams’ 5-1 record is surprising because they are starting a rookie at quarterback and running back in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot respectively.

Prescott is the surprise player of the league this year. The Cowboys drafted out of Georgia Tech in the sixth round. So far, he is the best sixth round draft pick since Tom Brady. His best attribute is his ability not to turn the ball over. That skill combined with the running game is the reason the Cowboys have one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

Elliot was supposed to be good. The running back out of Ohio State was drafted last spring with the 4th overall pick in the draft. He has exceeded all expectations so far. The fact that the team has the best run blocking offensive line in the league doesn’t hurt, though. Elliot rushed for over 150 yards in last week’s matchup against the Packers. When you have these kinds of strengths, it’s much easier to cover up your weaknesses. It will be interesting to see how much better the offense gets once All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant returns to the lineup.

Weaknesses

The Cowboys’ weaknesses all lie on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest glaring problem is in the defensive secondary. Ironically, this is the area on the field where owner Jerry Jones has spent the most on salaries. The Cowboys need to improve their pass rush as well. The return of Mo Claiborne has slightly improved their ability in pass coverage compared to earlier in the season.

Their coverage would be greatly improved if they didn’t have to stay on receivers for so long. The pass rush just isn’t there for the Cowboys this season. Cornerbacks and safeties can only cover for so long before the quarterback finds a hole. The Cowboys D is still finding ways to slow down and stop opposing defenses.

Another reason that it is difficult to gauge how well the Cowboys are going to do in the postseason this year is their schedule. They haven’t had the toughest schedule so far. Most of their wins have come against pretty bad teams. Their schedule is going to get tougher as the year goes on.

I think the Cowboys have the talent to win the super bowl. They need to stay healthy on both sides of the ball to do it as they aren’t very deep. They may also want to give Alfred Morris some more carries so Elliot doesn’t hit a wall and get burned out before postseason. It’s also going to be interesting to see what they do at quarterback after the return of Romo from the IR list.

The Dallas Cowboys have a luxury that few teams get to have: Two capable, winning starting QBs.

Tony Romo has had an injury plagued career, with significant numbers of games missed in 2010, 2015 and this season. He’s not completed a full slate of 16 games since 2012, is NFL-geriatric at 36, and is halfway through a six year extension for 119 million dollars.

Romo, who suffered a back injury in a preseason game against Seattle, has absolute mastery of Jason Garrett’s offense, and when he’s healthy, he’s one of the top five quarterbacks in the league. Romo might be medically cleared to start in week 8 after this week’s bye. The type of back injury he suffered has a 10 to 12 week recovery time.

Starting in Romo’s place has been rookie phenomenon Dak Prescott, drafted in the fourth round out of Mississippi state. Prescott has benefited from two years of a roster rebuild that’s finally paid off. Dallas’s offensive line is the best in the league, and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has proven to be the real deal.

Prescott’s game isn’t Romo’s. It’s clear that Prescott relies on lateral mobility (Romo is somewhat immobile in the pocket), and Prescott lives off of the play-action pass. Prescott is a good intermediate range thrower, and while he’s got the arm talent for throws to the deep third of the field, he’s not quite as accurate on those shots as Romo is. That will eventually come with time and practice with his receivers.

Dallas Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has tailored the Dallas offense to Prescott’s strengths. Prescott isn’t asked to do as much as Romo, and he’s getting more plays installed into the base package every week or so. At some point, defensive coordinators will have enough footage of Prescott to know his tendencies and see his limitations, and Prescott will fall to earth.

Romo is a more complete quarterback when he’s healthy. The odds say that Romo will get starts over Prescott over the course of the season. Dallas will face disciplined defenses that know how to deal with a play action passer, and Prescott still holds the ball too long looking for more separation from his receivers. These are things that will come with practice and time, but they’re weaknesses waiting for exploitation.

It’s not a question of “will Romo start”. It’s a question of when. The initial discussion of Romo’s injury had Dallas’ front office call him their unequivocal starter, they’ve backed away from those statements recently. Given the quality of Prescott’s play, they’re telling Romo to be patient with his healing and conditioning goals, which is a tacit way of saying “We’ll wait until someone figures out Prescott’s game and exploits them before putting you back in.”

Strategically, this makes sense. I anticipate that sometime before the last third of the season, Romo will return as the full time starter in Dallas, especially when Dallas is playing for playoff seeding. He absolutely will be their playoff QB, this season.

However much Romo plays at the end of the season, this may be his swan song in Dallas. That six year contract he signed in 2013 has run out of guaranteed money, beyond the prorated signing bonus. Romo will be 37 before the end of the season, and isn’t just perceived to be an injury risk, he is one. Meanwhile, Prescott is on a four-year rookie contract, and will cost less than Dallas’ kicker next season. Much the same way that Seattle was rode Russell Wilson’s rookie contract to the Super Bowl, paying Prescott for three years lets Dallas load up on talent in other position groups (and pay that offensive line when their contracts come due.)

Ezekiel Elliot is only six games into his NFL career and the running back already looks like he is the best player at the position to be taken in the top 5 of the draft since LaDanian Tomlinson. The Dallas Cowboys selected the running back with the 4th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. A lot of people questioned this move because they needed defensive talent sorely, but the pick has paid off so far.

Elliot has taken the lead by storm so far, with the help of the best offensive line in the league. His performance so far points to him being well worth the risk the Cowboys took on him in the draft. Picking a running back that early in the draft is considered risky by most teams. It is risky because the gap from the best to the worst running back in the draft usually isn’t that sizable. The Cleveland Browns recently took Trent Richardson with the 3rd pick only to trade him to the Colts two years later.

In his first couple games, it didn’t look like he was going to be all he cracked up to be. He averaged under 70 yards per game in the first two weeks. Ever since then, he has exploded. His lowest total since game two has been 134 yards. Last week Elliot rushed for 157 yards. He has helped the Cowboys surprisingly become one of the best teams in the league with a 5-1 record. Their rookie backfield of Elliot and the upstart rookie QB, Dak Prescott, are the talk of the NFL.

It is important to note that the Cowboys haven’t played the toughest schedule in the NFL so far this season. The softer defenses they have faced could be a catalyst for Elliot’s success so far. His numbers have been staggering enough to suggest that his talent is the main reason for his success, though. Some people think that he is the best running back in the NFL right now. His stats do not say otherwise.

Another thing to think about in regards to Elliot’s season so far is the number of carries he has been getting. The Cowboys are giving him the ball a lot. He has had almost 30 carries the last two weeks. Not going to be sustainable for the entire season, especially for a rookie. Later in the season, it will be interesting to see if Elliot hits the “rookie wall”. Remember, he has never played more than 12 games in a season.

Elliot is lucky to play for the Cowboys. They have the best offensive line for run blocking in pro football. Their skill combined with his talent is taking a lot of pressure off young quarterback Dak Prescott. These factors combined have made the Cowboys one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL so far this season.

The only questions that surround Ezekiel Elliot at this point are whether or not he has the endurance to keep up his production and if improved defenses will expose a chink in his armor. His production in the last four games has been some of the best by a rookie in the history of the NFL. Even if these negative factors do slow down the young runner, he should be a star in the league for years to come.

Now just because we like cycling doesn’t mean that we don’t like other sports.  In fact, both of us are big fans of the NFL.  The updated win totals in Vegas show there are four teams with the highest win totals.  It’s the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Carolina Panthers all at 10.5 wins for 2016.

It’s pretty easy to see why.  The Patriots have proven year after year that they are going to be contenders in the AFC East and the playoff in general.  While the Buffalo Bills and NY Jets are both seen as likely to get to eight win, it’s clearly New England’s division to lose.

Out West the defending champion Denver Broncos are expected to have the most wins at 9.5.  But, the Kansas City Chiefs are a close second at 9.  The Oakland Raiders should be improved and the San Diego Chargers aren’t terrible.  This is going to be a division to watch.

The AFC North has three good teams and then the worst in all of football.  Cleveland is down to 4.5 expected wins, one full win below any other team.  The Steelers are always good, the Cincinnati Bengals have moved from a laughing stock to a team that consistently makes the playoffs, and the Baltimore Ravens will hover close to .500.

The AFC South is kind of a hot mess right now.  The Indianapolis Colts were a darling last year, but really struggled.  They are the best team at 8.5 projected wins.  The Houston Texans are at 8, then it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars at 6 and the Tennessee Titans at 5.5.  Overall this is the weakest division.

For the NFC the East should be very competitive.  The Cowboys are the highest projected with 9 wins, but the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins all have 7.5 wins in the projections.

The NFC West is pretty top heavy.  There are the Seahawks at 10.5, but closely followed by the Arizona Cardinals at 9.5.  The LA Rams are supposed to open up their franchise’s move with 7 wins, while the San Francisco 49ers are the duds in the division with around five losses.

The NFC North is pretty competitive too.  The Green Bay Packers dealt with injuries last year, but if healthy 10.5 wins is expected.  The Minnesota Vikings are pushing forward with 9 wins, but the Detroit Lions at 7 and the Chicago Bears at 6.5 make the bottom two teams very beatable.

The NFC South belongs to the Carolina Panthers.  Their win total is set 3.5 higher than the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bring up the rear with 6.5 expected wins.

The favorites to win it all are the Panthers, Patriots, and Seahawks at 9/1.  The Packers and Steelers are close behind at 12/1 and the Cardinals are at 14/1.  Fore the complete list of Super Bowl odds visit Boyds Bets.