Without exception the NFC Eastern Division holds the title as the most brutal division in the NFL. When they aren't good enough to beat up on other teams, they can be found beating up on each other. Where the rivalry between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts is the equivalent of two buddies arguing over who's prettier, Ginger or Maryann; the rivalries between each team in the East are more Hatfields and McCoys.
Perhaps no team is more despised in the NFL than the Dallas Cowboys, despite their over all popularity with fans. In fact, most teams, if they can't win the Super Bowl will go out of their way to beat the Cowboys, only to lose the following week, regardless of who they are playing. After 20 years, Jerry Jones is still scratching his head; wondering where all this animosity comes from.
Cumulatively, the NFC Eastern Division holds the record for most Super Bowl wins with 12, and the most appearances with 20. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have more championships at 6, while Dallas and San Francisco each have 5.
Popularity doesn't win championships, and nobody understands that better than Jerry Jones. It's been 17 years since the Cowboys won a championship; since then, disappointment, like some malodorous, menacing cloud hovers over the organization, slowly siphoning the remnants of past glories from the once proud franchise. Jason Garrett was brought in to be Wade Phillips' successor; a decision that ultimately led to Phillips' getting fired. Garrett's first full year as Head Coach didn't come without its trials and many errors. A Princeton graduate, it didn't take Garrett long to figure out that the memory of icing the kicker has roughly the same half-life as Uranium-238 - 4.5 billion years.
Jerry Jones' penchant for hyperbole has waned little over the years, and his recent remarks about the window of opportunity closing on his key players didn't go unnoticed. While Romo disagrees with that statement, the fact remains that this team will need a major overhaul in the next few years. It isn't a secret that Jerry Jones loves his quarterback; knowing full well that he hasn't surrounded him with the level of talent needed to win the division. He's sensitive to the fact that Romo won't be around forever. In the next draft or two you can expect Jones to make a bid for Romo's eventual replacement - out of necessity, not disappointment; make no mistake, Romo will get a contract extension - Jerry Jones owes him that.
Offensively, Dallas has performed at a high level every season. Romo is second only to Aaron Rodgers with a rating of 96.9 of quarterbacks all time, but that doesn't stop frustrated fans, and the fickle media from labeling him a failure. He's got to push his receivers; holding them accountable for their routes; knowing where to line up. Last year left a bad taste in his mouth; he played well enough, but the results weren't there. Expect an entirely different Tony Romo this season; expect him to play like it's a contract year - because it is.
The rushing yardage was there, but just not the touchdowns. Finishing the season with only five, one of those being Romo's, it doesn't take a slide rule to figure out that scoring even five more would have put them into the playoffs. It will be Jason Garrett's job to use his running backs more effectively; alleviating some of the pressure from his quarterback to win games. DeMarco Murray's ability to run between the tackles showed why some consider him the next Emmitt Smith. Murray, alongside a healthy Felix Jones should make a formidable backfield; doubling the touchdown total of 2011. Expect Tryon Smith and Doug Free to make the switch. Free did the best he could at left tackle, but even as a rookie, Smith was by far the best lineman on the team, and he was drafted to play left tackle. A proper offseason will give the offensive line quality time to gel. Protecting Romo and opening lanes for the running backs is vital to the Cowboys winning more than 8 games this year.
The departure of Laurent Robinson was probably the most unexpected off-season move. Yet, a necessary evil if the team is ever going to get its money's worth from Bryant. As long as Robinson remained, he would stay Romo's primary receiver, and Jerry Jones isn't paying Dez Bryant good money to sit. Bryant needs to mature; something that seems takes longer for a player on this team. Injuries have kept Miles Austin from living up to his potential, but when healthy he is very good. Bryant should be the best receiver on the team, and with the departure of Robinson he gets his chance. The third receiver spot is wide open, with the experienced Kevin Ogletree having the slight advantage; but it was Robinson last year that took the spot away from him. Dwayne Harris and Raymond Radway will be more than happy to take Robinson's place.
Face it, the Dallas defense couldn't stop a clock. Cutting ties with Terrence Newman was inevitable; never a great ball hawk, Newman always relied on his speed. When that began to fade, so did he. The addition of Brandon Carr, who came over from the Chiefs will be a big improvement. Morris Claiborne, a first round pick, will slip quite nicely into Mike Jenkins' spot, who, by the way wants to be traded. Jones and Garrett both agree that won't happen, and that is good. Jenkins' believes he is a good cornerback, and he is. He needs to give it another chance. In typical Jerry Jones fashion, he had no choice but to give under-achieving, former 2007 first round pick, Anthony Spencer $8 million guaranteed. He needs to over-achieve. Hopefully, with an instantly improved backfield, both he and DeMarcus Ware should be able to wreak havoc similar to that of Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.