The Cowboys ended a 12-year drought without a playoff victory last year when they beat the Eagles 34-14 in the first round. It was also the first career postseason victory for coach Wade Phillips in five tries and improved Tony Romo's playoff record to 1-2.
The Cowboys don't plan to rest on that accomplishment, especially after getting beat 34-3 against Minnesota in the second round of the playoffs. Dallas wants to reach the Super Bowl this season, which just happens to be at Cowboys Stadium.
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To do that, Romo needs another outstanding season. Romo threw for a career-high 4,483 yards last year with 26 touchdowns and a career-low nine interceptions. And this year, he could be even better.
The Cowboys gave Romo a new weapon this offseason with rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant, a first-round draft choice. Bryant will join an impressive receiving corps that features Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Roy E. Williams and Patrick Crayton.
Romo also has solid receivers out of the backfield in Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, and he plays in an offense that will remain explosive. We consider Romo a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback, and he could end up as a Top 5 player at his position.
The one downside to Romo is he has an inexperienced starter at left tackle after Flozell Adams was let go. Doug Free is the new left tackle if he can beat out Alex Barron, and he only has seven career starts. If Free can keep Romo from getting hit, Romo should shine -- and that's what we expect to happen.
Breakout ... Felix Jones, RB
There have been differing reports this offseason out of Dallas about who will be the starting running back between Barber and Jones. The only certainty in the backfield is Choice is third on the depth chart. You can expect about an even split between Barber and Jones during the season, but it makes sense if Jones gets the majority of touches, because he has the ability to do more based on his breakaway speed and playmaking ability. Barber is more of a grinder, and he's better suited for short-yardage work and goal-line situations.
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When Barber was at his best for the Cowboys and Fantasy owners he was the No. 2 option behind Julius Jones. In 2006-07, Barber averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored 24 rushing touchdowns. In his past two seasons as the starter, Barber has averaged just 4.1 yards per carry and scored only 14 rushing touchdowns. If Jones starts with Barber providing a change-of-pace option, the Cowboys backfield will benefit -- and so will Fantasy owners. Barber can return to his more natural role, which would still make him worth drafting as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy option, and Jones can build off last year's playoff success.
In two playoff games with Barber limited due to injury, Jones had 30 carries for 217 yards and a touchdown, including a 73-yard run, and four catches for 52 yards. The problem for Jones has been staying healthy since he's missed 12 games in his first two years. But we're expecting Jones to see a bigger role this year, starter or not, and he's someone to target on Draft Day as a No. 3 Fantasy running back. Barber may end up with more touchdowns, but Jones can still produce enough to help your Fantasy roster for several weeks during the season.
Bounce-back candidate ... Roy E. Williams, WR
Williams has struggled since his trade from Detroit to Dallas in 2008, and he's averaged just 37 catches for 513 yards and five touchdowns the past two seasons. But I'm not convinced he's finished as a quality Fantasy option, even with the addition of Bryant. Reports out of Dallas are Williams had a great offseason, and he should be motivated to keep his job with Bryant now in the mix. Williams also enters the season without any pressure of having to be the No. 1 receiver since Miles Austin showed last year he can handle that role.
That leaves Williams with the chance to surprise Fantasy owners, and he's worth a late-round pick on Draft Day. I would take Williams ahead of Bryant. Keep in mind, Williams is only 28, and he's had three years with at least 50 catches and 815 yards and four years with at least seven touchdowns. He could still put together a good campaign, especially with all the single coverage he'll get.
Now, is Williams going to develop into a starting Fantasy option again? No. But can be a useful reserve or a bye-week replacement? Absolutely. Don't be surprised if Williams proves to the Cowboys that, finally, he was worth the price they paid to get him from the Lions.
Keeper-league target ... Dez Bryant, WR
Bryant is obvious as a keeper-league selection based on his ability and the eventual role he'll play with the Cowboys. But that's the only format I would take Bryant on Draft Day unless he fell to me with a late-round pick. As talented as Bryant is, rookie wide receivers take time to develop. Bryant also is stepping into an offense where he's not needed since Dallas already has Austin, Williams, Crayton, Witten and Martellus Bennett.
Crayton is still a candidate to get traded or released, and Bryant will have plenty of opportunities to make plays. But don't expect him to be a significant contributor in seasonal leagues, and he's already shown some injuries this offseason with hamstring, ankle and hip problems. Bryant is going to be great in the future and could be a starting Fantasy option as early as next year. But you should lower your expectations for him this season since he might not make an immediate impact in 2010.
Free, the new Cowboys left tackle, will get an early test facing Julius Peppers and Mario Williams in two of the first three games of the year. That could go a long way to determining how Romo and the passing game will do this season, but we expect Romo to be fine. The Cowboys will get a chance for revenge at Minnesota in Week 6 since the Vikings ended their season last year, and then Dallas has a tough stretch to close the season. The Cowboys face last year's Super Bowl teams back-to-back -- vs. New Orleans in Week 12 and at Indianapolis in Week 13 -- and then close the year with three division games (two against the Eagles) in the final four weeks.
Training camp topics
There are three spots on offense where the Cowboys have to nail down a starter: left tackle, running back and wide receiver. Going into training camp, Free has the starting left tackle job, but he could face a challenge from Barron.
Barber and Jones will likely go back and forth as the starting running back, and Bryant will challenge Williams for the starting receiver spot. We also have to find out if Crayton will get traded or released.
The Cowboys have also said that Witten could be used more in the red zone this year, which would help his Fantasy value since he only scored two touchdowns last season. And we'll find out if David Buehler, as expected, can lock down the kicking job in Dallas. If he does, consider Buehler a sleeper on Draft Day.
Dez Bryant (hamstring; probable for the start of training camp) ... Orlando Scandrick (finger; questionable for the start of training camp) ... DeMarcus Ware (foot; probable for the start of training camp) ... Keith Brooking (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Akwasi Owusu-Ansha (shoulder; questionable for the start of training camp)
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