With the complete lack of football news and free agency looking like it won't happen till August I decided in my boredom to write a team by team preview of the 32 NFL teams with my own little prediction at the end. I'll start with the NFC East and wind up with the AFC West and conclude with my beloved Broncos. If Free Agency does begin and in my opinion a significant player has either been added or since departed from the team I'll update the preview (but if we're talking 4th receiver on the depth chart stuff, forget it.
So starting with the NFC East, here is the team everyone finds most annoying that doesn't live in Texas...
The Dallas Cowboys
The 2010 Dallas Cowboys went into the season hoping to play at home in the Super Bowl. What happened was a disorganized mess that ended in Wade Phillips' dishonorable discharge and a 6-10 record. Nobody thinks that a quick turnaround isn't a real possibility given the level of quality talent on the roster, but 2011 will hinge on Jason Garrett's ability to unite the team and Tony Romo's ability to stay healthy.
Coaching: Head Coach Jason Garrett is a detail oriented offensive coach. He'll act as offensive coordinator as well as the man in charge. He found some success in the toward the end of last season. Rob Ryan runs the defense which has had a strong front 7 for the last few years, but his toughest challenge will be turning one of the leagues worst pass defenses around. 6 out of 10
Quarterbacks: Starting QB Tony Romo is a quality starter that has been everywhere from ugh... to holy crap where did that throw come from. He's a pro bowl quality that makes the Cowboys a better team when he's on the field. Arm strength is strong, but not elite. He's got great accuracy and zip on the intermediate throws. A lack of Jessica Simpson improves his rating as a man, and probably as a QB too. Jon Kitna was 4-5 when Romo was injured and is a strong backup. 8 out of 10
Running Backs: Felix Jones is the starter and the Cowboys are calling him a feature back, but I don't buy it. Jones has speed and talent, but his ability to operate between the tackles is poor. He led the Cowboys with 800 yards and he averaged 4.3 ypc. He'll be backed up by Oklahoma rookie DeMarco Murray and 3rd down back Tashard Choice. Choice is reliable and Murray figures to be an adequate replacement, if not a flat out improvement over Marion Barber who looks to be headed elsewhere. 6 out of 10
Receivers and Tight Ends: Jason Witten might be the league's best tight end. He blocks well and catches the ball and has been as reliable as any Cowboy for nearly a decade. If only the wide receivers were all as top flight as Witten. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Roy Williams are three receivers fighting for two starting spots. Miles Austin is a game breaker and an elite deep threat, but he has a lot of drops. Dez Bryant has elite level talent but can't stay out of off the field trouble, and Williams is unspectacular on the field but steady. The group is unfortunately worse than the sum of it's parts. 6.5 out of 10
Offensive Line: Last years starters were LT Doug Free, RT Sam Young, LG Montrae Holland, C Andre Gurode, and RG Leonard Davis were good, but not great. They plow the road for their backs pretty well, but the Cowboys had three starting QB's last year. There are possibilities for change on the line with the ninth pick of the draft Tyron Smith. Smith has the skill to be a left tackle, but Doug Free was the best lineman Dallas had all year and won't give up his spot for no reason. This is probably the weakest unit on the offense, but it's average. 5 out of 10
Offensive score 29.5 out of 40
Defensive Line: Jay Ratliff is one of the most underrated 3-4 Nose Tackles in the NFL, and he's rated pretty dang high. Ratliff breaks down the pocket effectively and pushes the pile toward the QB making things a nightmare for interior linemen. He made the pro bowl last year, but his numbers were down across the board. Igor Olshansky is a stout run stuffing end, does the gritty work on the line freeing rushing lanes for the outside linebackers. As it stands Stephen Bowen is penciled in as the starting LDE, but that will probably change before the season. The unit as a whole is strong but not stat grabbing. The unit does it's job and frees the linebackers to get to the backfield. 7 out of 10
Linebackers: In the middle the Cowboys start Bradie James and Keith Brooking. They do a good job locking down the middle and preventing running backs from escaping, and James leads the team in tackles every year. Brooking is getting older but is still effective. The two second round picks from the last two years, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, are in line to inherit starting jobs if and when James and Brooking move on. But that could be a few years from now. On the Outside DeMarcus Ware is the best pass rusher in the NFL. He lead the league in sacks again last year with 15.5. Ware's running mate on the left is Anthony Spencer. He had 50 tackles but the Cowboys need him to produce more sacks than 5 this year. This unit could be a 10 out of 10 if they had one more great linebacker to replace Spencer. 8 out of 10
Corners: Mike Jenkins and Terrence Newman were a duo of pro bowlers in 2009, but last year they couldn't stop anyone. Jenkins was a first round pick in 2008 so he'll be in the Cowboys long term plans, but this could be the end of the line for Newman, he's due $9 million next year. Orlando Scandrick is the 3rd CB, and in a contract year. 4 out of 10
Safeties: Alan Ball started the season at free safety but was so awful that he was moved to corner, and didn't play much there. Gerald Sensabaugh was the Strong safety last year and is a free agent now. He's not likely to be brought back without his salary being severely reduced. As it stands its a crap shoot who the safeties are going to be in Dallas this year. Safety is certainly going to be addressed in free agency once it opens. 2 out of 10
Defensive Grade: 21 out of 40
1) Tyron Smith OT: The teams future at left tackle if he can supplant Doug Free. Strong and athletic but a little sight at 287 lbs. He's a better run blocker than pass blocker.
2) Bruce Carter LB: Great athlete but a bad 2010 at UNC. His best year was as a sophomore in 08 and its troubling for a 2nd round pick to have peaked his college career as a sophomore.
3) DeMarco Murray RB: Scored 64 touchdowns at Oklahoma. He's a tough runner with great speed and decent skill between the tackles, could be the top Cowboy back in two or three years.
4) David Arkin G: 1-AA player, will be good on special teams. A project if he ever starts. A reach in the 4th round
5) Josh Thomas CB: Really fast corner, figures to contribute on special teams. Could be effective on corner blitzes, but needs to work on his fundamentals if he will rotate in the secondary.
6) Dwayne Harris WR: Probably a special teamer, drops passes very frequently. Breaks tackles but won't be a deep threat.
7) Shaun Chapas FB: Great intangibles, just doesn't look like he has a role on this offense.
7) Bill Nagy C/G: Comes from a good offense. Might be a guard for the Cowboys; I don't know that he makes the team.
Draft Grade: Several contributors and 3 probable eventual starters (Carter, Murray, and Smith). 6 out of 10
Final Cowboys Grade: 64.5 out of 100
(grade includes Coaching grade and draft)
Tennesseebronco's predicted record: 9-7 No playoffs