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2022 Dallas Cowboys Team Preview, Over/Under Prediction

cowboys team preview

The Dallas Cowboys had a successful regular season last year, but it ended in brutal fashion during the playoffs.

Dallas has since lost significant talent this offseason, while everyone else in the NFC East has improved in some way—especially the rival Philadelphia Eagles. Can quarterback Dak Prescott and linebacker Micah Parsons lead the Cowboys to another NFC East crown?

Let’s take a closer look at the Cowboys:

Opening Win Total: 10.5

Current Win Total:  10 to 10.5

Schedule Difficulty: Easy to Medium

Offense

Dak Prescott is often scrutinized, perhaps even unfairly at times. The 33rd Team founder Mike Tannenbaum has Prescott in his second tier of quarterbacks. That frames Dak as a franchise quarterback that’s capable of consistent regular season success well over half the league would upgrade at the position if Dak became their new signal caller. However, he’s still not quite in that upper echelon. Doubt remains on Dak’s ability to headline a championship team.

Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Cowboys offense were:

  • 3rd in net passing yards.
  • 9th in rushing yards.
  • 1st in points per game

I’ve never been more impressed with Dak than I was through his first six games last season. During that sixth contest in New England, he suffered a calf injury towards the end of that overtime win. After their Week 7 bye, Prescott missed Sunday Night Football in Minnesota due to the injury. From there, he was a different player through the rest of the regular season. Our own Dirk Koetter is optimistic that better days are ahead for Prescott, who is nearly two years removed from his gruesome ankle injury that ended his 2020 season.

Despite having two new starters this season the Cowboys offensive line should still be a net positive for this offense. My concern here is that 32-year-old left tackle Tyron Smith has missed 20 games over the past two seasons. If he or 32-year-old guard Zack Martin miss time, the drop off for this unit will be significant. Additionally, No. 24 overall pick Tyler Smith has a bright future; but it’s a big transition playing tackle for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to starting at guard for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas traded Amari Cooper to Cleveland. Michael Gallup will miss time due to a knee injury, and James Washington will do the same with a broken foot. CeeDee Lamb is one of the best young receivers in the league, but this is a much thinner group right now. Rookie Jalen Tolbert has received encouraging buzz this offseason, and Noah Brown has had his moments as a role player. Dallas will ask a lot out of a third-round rookie from South Alabama and Brown to start this season. Tight end Dalton Schultz had an excellent 2021 campaign and could see even more volume early this season. Schultz could easily be the second option in this passing attack until Gallup returns.

The combination of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard gives Dallas one of the best running back duos in football. Elliott played through a knee injury for most of last season, where he looked like a declining player at times. However, he does all the little things well and is extremely reliable in every phase. Pollard is more explosive than Elliott to the point it would make sense for Dallas to further incorporate Pollard into the offense. Given the reductions to the Cowboys wide receiver group, we could see Elliott and Pollard on the field more often this season. There have been reports that Pollard could see some notable time in the slot this year.

Defense

The Cowboys defense took a big step forward last season. Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Cowboys defense were:

  • 16th in rushing yards allowed.
  • 23rd in passing yards allowed, though 1st in interceptions.
  • 13th in sacks, 5th in hurries, 4th in knockdowns, and 3rd in pressures.
  • 7th in points allowed per game.

Difference-making EDGE Randy Gregory is now in Denver. This pass rush led by Demarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons is still positioned to be a major factor, but Gregory is a big loss. Speaking of Parsons, our Bill Cowher had some great insights on how Parsons is being deployed in Dallas.

In essence, Parsons is a dynamic athlete with a versatile skillset, and Dallas is deploying him as a weapon, a weapon that opposing teams will struggle to gameplan for because they don’t know where he’s going to line up. Parsons is already one of the best defensive players in the game, and he’ll be the centerpiece for the Dallas defense for years to come. 

Cornerback Trevon Diggs had a pretty unique season last year. Per Sports Info Solutions, Diggs gave up the most receiving yards in the league last season. He also had a ridiculous 11 interceptions where several of them shifted games in the Cowboys favor. We can reasonably expect regression on those league leading 11 interceptions for Diggs, but he’s going to keep making plays if offenses continue to challenge him.

Our Mike Zimmer provides unique insights on the Cowboys defense. In particular, he speaks about Dallas safety Jayron Kearse, who spent four seasons with Coach Zimmer in Minnesota.

Schedule 

The most difficult stretch in the Cowboys schedule comes in the first six games: they face Tampa Bay (SNF), Cincinnati, the giants (MNF), Washington, the Rams, and Philadelphia. The Buccaneers, Bengals, and Rams each have double-digit projected win totals, while the rival Eagles sit at 9.5. Divisional matchups against the Giants and Commanders are more dangerous than they appear for Dallas as well. If Dallas emerges through this stretch with a 3-3 or better record, that should be considered a win.

After their Week 9 bye week, Dallas draws back-to-back dangerous road games in Green Bay and then Minnesota. After a Thanksgiving Day tilt with the rival Giants, Dallas then hosts the Colts. That four-game stretch gives Dallas three opponents with a nine-game or greater win total. 

In Week 16 the Cowboys host the Eagles on Christmas Eve Saturday, before getting a second Thursday game in Tennessee in Week 17. Those are back-to-back games against physical teams that made the playoffs last year. Dallas will get the Titans in Tennessee, on short rest. That contest against the Titans specifically is much more of a coin flip under these schedule conditions.

While the Cowboys’ schedule is reasonably manageable at first glance, they face their most difficult opponents in disadvantageous clusters. This is a fine example of why I don’t really care about baseline strength of schedule figures; I want the details.

Final Thoughts

I was in on Dallas last year. I bet the over on their win total and had a 30:1 Super Bowl ticket on the Cowboys that I bought after they drafted Micah Parsons. High on their first-round draft pick, I bought multiple Defensive Rookie of the Year positions on Parsons last spring. I expected Trevon Diggs and this defense to take a leap, to the point I had a 125:1 ticket on Diggs to win the Defensive Player of the Year last season.

You could argue that no team lost more significant talent this offseason than Dallas. Their pass rush and their wide receiver groups are without question worse than they were last year. I’d go so far as to say that last year’s team may end up being the best roster Dak Prescott ever plays with. The window on Tyron Smith and Zack Martin playing at an elite level is getting tighter every year—especially in the case of Smith, given his recent injury history.

The dynamic between head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is an unexpected concern. This quote in particular from McCarthy in response to Quinn offering to depart to relieve tensions gives me some trepidation: “If this was 10 years ago, I’d say yeah, it would help for you to go. But I don’t want to say that right now. Because I think winning is better with you here.”

I do not like this response, because “I think winning is better with you here” is really all that needed to be said. When you factor in the Cowboys ‘difficult string of opponents to begin the year, this drama has a realistic path to playing out during the season if they start slow.

Combine those factors with me being bullish on the Eagles, and I’d have to take the under on Dallas at 10.5 games. I’d take the under on 10 as well if I had to choose…though making suboptimal decisions like betting a bad number isn’t as wise of a choice.

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