Tony Romo and company are back for one more crack at winning the NFC East, but even owner/GM Jerry Jones admits the window may be closing on this bunch.
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Romo will have his normal cast of characters to throw to, including Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, but he’ll have a revamped offensive line with two free-agent guards signed this offseason to provide support (Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings). Defensively there’s plenty of talent, led by sack-artist DeMarcus Ware, who continues to excel in the prime of his career. Also, keep an eye on DeMarco Murray in the backfield, who could be poised for a breakout season.
The Cowboys added massive help on the offensive line and also in the secondary, where the signing of Brandon Carr, the top free-agent cornerback available, made waves in the NFC East. Dallas also added safety Brodney Pool in addition to backup quarterback Kyle Orton, just in case Romo goes down.
DeMarcus Ware is one of the league's most feared pass rushers.
Cornerback Morris Claiborne figures to take over for the departed Terrence Newman after the Cowboys moved up to the No. 6 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft to get him. Boise State defensive end Tyrone Crawford was added in the third round and was widely considered to be one of the top steals of the draft.
The schedule is brutal, including road trips to Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Dallas also gets New Orleans and Pittsburgh at home, too. Playing in the NFC East also means two games against the world champion New York Giants -- including a road game in Week 1 -- and two games each against Michael Vick's Eagles and Robert Griffin III's Redskins.
After the tough opener, the Cowboys get one of their easier stretches on paper, featuring a road game against the Seahawks and home dates with the Buccaneers and Bears before a Week 5 bye. The final three games -- vs. Steelers, vs. Saints, at Redskins -- loom as a daunting challenge in playoff crunch time.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Tony Romo, quarterback. In a record-smashing passing season in the NFL, Romo finished seventh with 4,184 yards and is the key to the Cowboys' offensive engine.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
DeMarcus Ware, linebacker. Ware was second in the NFL with 19.5 sacks a season ago and will be critical once again in 2012.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
The patchwork offensive line exceeds expectations, Romo keeps the turnovers to a minimum, and the secondary improves from a disastrous performance from a year ago. The Cowboys still have a strong nucleus of veterans on offense, not to mention defensive stars like Ware, Jay Ratliff and now Brandon Carr. Dallas is as dangerous as it ever has been, but has to be less dangerous to itself if it is to finally live up to expectations.