The Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL, they have an electrifying quarterback / running back rookie combo in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, Dez Bryant’s right foot is completely healed, and, due to last season’s 4-12 finish, they’re playing a loser’s schedule in 2016: the AFC North and a bunch of last place teams. Their own division, the NFC East is a dumpster fire. Surely, even with the loss of Tony Romo for the first six to eight weeks and the drug-related suspensions of half their starting defense to begin the season, the Cowboys will finish with a winning record and qualify for the playoffs.
Have you been watching this team for the past twenty years?
The Cowboys have not been relevant in a long, long time. The last time they won a divisional round playoff game, Bill Clinton was promoting an intern instead of campaigning for his wife. As long as Jerry Wayne is running this team, a return to any kind of NFL prominence is an absurd fantasy. Football is not the priority for Jones. The game is only a means to more cash from an ever-dizzying array of alternate revenue streams. Yes, Jerry Wayne is brilliant. But it doesn’t help the Cowboys when he schedules Coldplay at ATT&T Stadium in front of 90,000 people at an average of $450 per ticket but still drafts Jaylon Smith.
The owner/president/general manager/huckster of your Cowboys is a proven liability they cannot overcome. Think about it. One of the bigger shocks in the offseason is that Jones DID NOT resign Greg Hardy and make him a player/captain/defensive coordinator. This is the same evaluator of talent who said of Brandon Weeden, “He is a thing of beauty throwing the football; you won’t see a more gifted passer.” Jones lets DeMarco Murray walk in March 2015 and then uses the highest pick the Cowboys have had in decades on Ezekiel Elliot 13-months later. He uses the second pick on an injured linebacker who may not ever play. Football is not his priority. Jones is only interested in providing content for TV, regardless of the quality.
So, again, in the interest of “If you can’t say anything negative about the Cowboys, don’t say anything at all,” I give you my 2016 Dallas Cowboys game-by-game prediction.
Sept. 11 v. Giants – Since I’m writing this on Labor Day, I have no idea if Jason Pierre-Paul will blow off another hand in a holiday fireworks accident this evening. I’m assuming he won’t. And I’m assuming he’ll sack Prescott twice and recover at least one fumble in the Giants win. The Giants defense was last in the NFL last season and they haven’t made the playoffs in four years. But the Cowboys offense sputters all day. Ezekiel Elliot gains 124-yards on 35-carries in his NFL debut. But Dak turns the ball over three times, he only connects with Dez Bryant on two completions, and they go 1-11 on 3rd downs. Eli Manning hits Odell Beckham, Jr. for two scores and New York takes the opener 20-13. Linebacker Sean Lee made it through the entire game without suffering an injury and so is awarded a game ball in the Cowboys locker room.
Sept. 18 @ Redskins – Well, we were afraid this might happen. In light of Prescott’s first-game struggles, Jerry Wayne panics and signs Johnny Manziel to the Cowboys, even though Manziel showed up at team headquarters in Frisco with a needle hanging out of his arm and a dead bookie in the trunk of the car that he crashed into a light pole on his way in. Somehow, Dallas does squeak out the win. Prescott manages the game, throwing the ball only four times, but handing the ball to Elliot 37-times for 101 tough yards and two touchdowns. Dez Bryant finishes with zero targets and zero catches in the 17-14 Cowboys win.
Sept. 25 v. Bears – Lots of news leading up to this one. TMZ’s cameras caught Ezekiel Elliot hanging out in Deep Ellum after the Washington win with Mark Stepnoski and Ricky Williams. Jason Garrett announced that Tony Romo has looked good in the cafeteria. And Dez Bryant complains to the media that he isn’t getting the ball. A careful analysis shows that, indeed, Cole Beasley has twice as many catches as Bryant for a total of nine yards. Dak doesn’t look like an NFL passer. Dallas’ defense can’t stop Jay Cutler and the Cowboys lose at home for the second time in as many games 38-3. The Bears defense doesn’t respect Prescott’s passing, stacking the line on every play to stop Elliot who finishes with 77-yards on 35-carries. Cowboys fans claim they have the best offensive line in football, so it must be Elliot.
Oct. 2 @ 49ers – Jason Garrett informed his players that they would all stand at attention, in a single file line, with their helmets off and their hands over their hearts for the national anthem before the game in San Francisco. Unfortunately, Sean Lee strained an elbow ligament during the song when, in an instinctive move to over-function, he attempted a salute. Colin Kaepernick makes his first start of the season in place of Blaine Gabbert who has not grasped new coach Chip Kelly’s manic offense. His game day socks bear little Eddie DeBartolo images that are somehow in line with the league’s uniform policy. But he still causes negative distractions by his boycott of The Star Spangled Banner and the defiant way he shakes his afro at the military flyovers at the end of the song. So when he throws four picks in the home loss to Dallas, the 49ers and the NFL collude to cut him and ship him to a European basketball league. Ezekiel Elliot runs for only 21 yards on 39-carries. His attacking style and the cumulative number of early season carries seem to have worn him out. Dan Bailey kicks five field goals in the 22-13 win.
Oct. 9 v. Bengals – Trying to fix the running game while waiting for Tony Romo to return from his back injury, Jerry Jones asks Chris Christie to sit in on the team’s offensive line meetings this week. As expected, Jason Garrett tells reporters he thinks this is “an excellent idea!” The Cowboys defense is excited to return a couple of their suspended players back to the lineup this week. But the D is on the field for 49-minutes as Cincy “pounds the rock” all evening in the 33-12 Bengals win. Prescott was benched at halftime after throwing two interceptions, replaced by Mark Sanchez who made his Cowboys debut by fumbling off his rear end on the first snap of the third quarter. As a provision of a little known NFL rule, PacMan Jones was arrested and taken to jail after ten unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Ugly loss for Dallas.
Oct. 16 @ Green Bay – Attempting to jump start his anemic offense and take some pressure off his terrible defense, Garrett decides to start Manziel at quarterback against the Packers. Garrett cites some cryptic “chemistry” Manziel shares with Elliot. With Tony Romo expected to return after the bye week, the Cowboys cut Sanchez, who immediately re-signs with the Eagles. Manziel is absolutely electric, throwing for 359-yards, connecting with Dez Bryant for two scores, and running for two more. But Elliot suffers a serious injury late in the 4th quarter. On his 33rd carry, Elliot’s left hamstring spontaneously explodes. Actual sparks and tiny flames of fire shoot out from his uniform pants leg. This is bad. Maybe season-ending. Aaron Rodgers throws a “Hail Mary” touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on the game’s last play to beat Dallas 42-41. The Cowboys enter the bye week at 2-4, minus their top draft pick, with a defense that’s getting ripped every week, but with hope on the horizon: Romo is rumored to be returning for the Philly game.
Bye Week – A busy off week for the Cowboys. A respected team of surgeons has declared that Romo’s back is as good as a junior high science project put together with day old Olive Garden breadsticks and hot glue. Good enough! The Cowboys feel confident their season can be salvaged with the 36-year-old behind center. After all, haven’t you heard? The Cowboys have the best offensive line in football! Plus, the NFC East is so weak, Dallas is only a game behind the Redskins in the standings. Philadelphia releases Mark Sanchez for the second time in less than four months when, disappointingly, he can give them no inside scoop on the Cowboys’ schemes. It seems he never even opened a playbook while in Dallas. And Jerry Jones admits in an exclusive interview with GQ that the only reason he drafted Ezekiel Elliot was because his name sounds like a brand of single malt scotch.
Oct. 30 v. Eagles – Romo to the rescue! Cowboys win! Tony Romo is safe in the pocket all night and throws for three scores and no turnovers in the dramatic 38-37 victory. Rookie Carson Wentz shreds the Cowboys defense and Philly leads for most of the game. But Romo connects with Bryant, Beasley, and Terrance Williams for touchdowns in his 2016 debut. There are obvious questions about the defense. But Garrett says after the game this is exactly what they were planning for: hold on until Romo can return. Jones tells reporters he sees no reason why Romo can’t lead his team to the Super Bowl. The Cowboys are the most optimistic 3-4 team in the NFL. Cowboys fans are the most obnoxious, posting memes and tweets comparing Romo to General MacArthur returning to Normandy and Jesus Christ rising from the grave.
Nov. 6 @ Cleveland – LeBron James gives the 5-2 Browns a motivational speech in the locker room before the game. Robert Griffin III has been sensational, the Indians are in the ALCS against the Rangers, and the whole city of Cleveland is boasting about maybe three championships in one glorious year. Sensing a connection, Jerry Jones begins discussing with Donald Trump the possibility of holding the next Republican National Convention at ATT&T Stadium. Trump sets Jerry straight, reminding him that, by 2020, there won’t be a Republican Party to hold a convention. Romo keeps the mojo going. He throws for two scores, runs for one more, and tells reporters after the 28-24 win his “back and shoulders have never felt better!” Darren McFadden runs for 101 yards in the victory behind the “best offensive line in the NFL.” Sean Lee returns and makes nineteen solo tackles and drives the team bus to the airport after the game.
Nov. 13 @ Steelers – No one was surprised when Tony Romo went down midway through the second quarter. Tyron Smith missed a block and the Cowboys quarterback was sandwiched on a Steelers blitz. When they cleared the pile, television cameras panned away from the signal caller lying motionless on the turf. It was too much. A bone had punctured his skin and was protruding from his right shoulder. His left leg had been twisted off and was lying in a pool of blood six feet away. Part of his spleen was hanging out of his pants and he had bitten clean through his tongue. They carried Romo off the field on two separate cots. Steelers fans, being the notorious mean-spirited jerks that they are, chanted “Here we go, Steelers, here we go!” And the life was sucked out of the Cowboys. Pittsburgh wins 41-3.
Nov. 20 v. Ravens – Dak Prescott is back under center for Dallas and looks to have matured as a passer during his five-week benching. Romo attends all the quarterback meetings via video conference from the ICU at Parkland Hospital, vowing to return in time for the stretch run. But Garrett and the offensive staff pour all their energy into Prescott who responds with his best game as a pro. Jason Witten misses four practices, maintaining a 24-hour vigil at Romo’s bedside, but returns to the team to catch two TD passes in the 20-13 win over Baltimore.
Nov. 24 v. Redskins – Short week. Thanksgiving against the ‘Skins. Rookie quarterback. We’ve been watching old Clint Longley clips all week. But the Cowboys don’t need a desperation heave in this one. McFadden runs hard and Prescott continues his maturation in a 27-20 victory. Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory are back from their ten game suspensions and do bring some life to the troubled defense. But Sean Lee is out indefinitely after his face was scalded in a freak mishap during Beyoncé’s halftime show. Members of the Cowboys offensive line make a music video, lip-synching to a song Gary Hogeboom wrote called “The Best Offensive Line in the NFL.”
Dec. 1 @ Vikings – Sam Bradford lines up in the backfield with Adrian Peterson (the Vikings don’t know what else to do with him) and the OU tandem combines for 202 rushing yards to gash the Cowboys defense and dampen their playoff spirits 31-14. The Cowboys offense seems unable to find a rhythm. The defense can’t tackle their way out of a paper sack. But at 6-6, Dallas trails the Eagles by just one game in the division and controls their own destiny.
Dec. 11 @ Giants – After a ten day layoff in-between games, the Cowboys seem to be back in business. Sean Lee returned to the lineup wearing a suit made of Kevlar and bubble wrap and the Dallas defense sacked Eli Manning four times and picked him off twice in the 20-17 win. Prescott and McFadden did just enough to control the clock and keep the Dallas D off the field and fresh for their pursuit of Manning. Tony Romo has been released from the hospital after a leg transplant, a shoulder reconstruction, and the insertion of a plastic spleen. He still can’t speak, what with only half a tongue, but he promises to be at every practice and meeting to help Dak and the Cowboys during the final stretch.
Dec. 18 v. Buccaneers – New president Donald Trump has deported more than 75% of all Dallas Cowboys fans out of the country, which explains an almost empty ATT&T Stadium for the Tampa Bay game. By the time Jameis Winston ran for 135 yards and threw for 432 more, the parking lots were empty, too. Dallas kept stalling on offense and couldn’t contain the Bucs on defense in the 36-9 loss. As the Cowboys lined up for yet another field goal try, Garrett was overheard on the coaching headsets asking new offensive assistant Mike Huckabee, “Don’t we have the best offensive line in the NFL?”
Dec. 26 v. Lions – Needing to win both of their remaining two games to guarantee a playoff berth, Ezekiel Elliot returns to the field at home against Detroit. His hamstring is healed and his body is fresh, running for 126-yards and forcing the Lions defense to give Dak some room. Prescott does just enough in the 24-18 win: no interceptions, no big plays, nothing spectacular good or bad. Now the Cowboys need to win the season finale in Philly to win the division. Speculation begins that maybe they need Romo if they’re going to beat the Eagles.
Jan. 1 @ Eagles – In an effort to confuse Philadelphia, the Cowboys are coy about their starting quarterback in the season finale. Romo is reportedly participating in practices and will be on the active roster on game day. He’s listed as questionable. Prescott is saying all the right things in expressing his admiration for his veteran teammate and his commitment to whatever will help the Cowboys win. Romo can’t actually “speak” to the media; he’s writing down answers to reporters’ questions on index cards. The suspense ends when Romo’s transplanted leg falls off during the coin toss. It’s over. Tears well up in his eyes as Romo frantically moves to reattach his leg, but he dislocates his surgically-repaired shoulder in the attempt. As the coin is tossed, Romo makes a valiant effort to call out “tails!” But the referee can’t understand him and awards the flip to Philadelphia. Prescott performs admirably, eluding Eagles rushers, deciphering Eagles coverage packages, and throwing for three touchdowns. He looked good. But it was not enough. Carson Wentz cements his Rookie of the Year status in the 30-24 victory. The Cowboys finish at 8-8 and are knocked out of the final wildcard spot when Washington wins later in the day.
Jerry Jones says Romo shows great heart; don’t count him out for next year. Garrett says the team is going to continue “doing things” the right way with “high character guys.” Ezekiel Elliot says the video of him in a car with Mark Stepnoski behind a hubcap shop in Pleasant Grove doesn’t prove anything. And Dan Bailey knows that, as long as the Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL, he’ll always have a job.