Are the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Contenders or Pretenders in 2016?

Are the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Contenders or Pretenders?
The Dallas Cowboys have Super Bowl aspirations in 2016 | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys always have a way of capturing the undivided attention of the football world. This may seem fairly obvious, but “America’s Team” has one of the largest fan bases in all of American professional sports. But at the same time, they are also one of the most widely hated teams on the globe.

On top of that, in Forbes’ recently released annual valuation rankings, Dallas eclipsed all others in 2016 as the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the Cowboys are one of the most widely discussed and dissected teams in the National Football League.

Since their inception in 1960, the Cowboys have won five Super Bowl titles — and likely would have won at least one or two more had Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones not let his ego get the best of him, but that’s a story for another day. Nonetheless, it has been just over 20 years since their mini-dynasty from the mid-’90s broke up.

Despite their best efforts, the Cowboys haven’t came close to winning another world championship since. They experienced a couple of nice seasons — 2014 being the most recent. But there simply has not been a bona fide Super Bowl-contending Cowboys team since the days of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Nate Newton, and Darren Woodson. That could all change in 2016, however.

Dak Prescott has to start taking some chances on downfield throws | Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Dak Prescott has been a savior for the Dallas Cowboys | Tom Pennington/Getty Images

To the surprise of practically everybody outside of their team facility, the Cowboys’ record is 11-2. What’s most surprising about this feat: They pulled it off despite with a rookie quarterback under center. We can attribute their emergence as one of the better teams in the league to several factors. First and foremost, there is the play of quarterback Dak Prescott, who most teams overlooked coming out of college — he fell all the way to the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

As a rookie, Prescott is playing at a borderline-elite level. During Dallas’s Week 6 win over the Green Bay Packers, the former Mississippi State Bulldog broke Tom Brady’s record for the most pass attempts without throwing an interception to start a career (Brady’s record stood at 162 attempt and Prescott was finally picked off on his 177th attempt).

Prescott is currently ranked second in the league in quarterback rating and has a touchdown:interception ratio of 5:0. Based on what we see so far, the Cowboys struck gold with Prescott. His skill set and ability to avoid turnovers makes him an ideal fit for their run-first offense. And more importantly, he is a flat-out winner.

Are the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Contenders or Pretenders?
Ezekiel Elliott’s is the best running back in the league in 2016 so far | Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

The other two factors in the Cowboys’ success up to this point go hand in hand with one another. Thanks in large part to their decision to draft former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cowboys once again have the most dominant rushing attack in the NFL — it doesn’t hurt that they have the best offensive line in the league as well. Elliott has emerged as the heavy favorite to win the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The 21-year-old running back is now very much in the conversation for 2016 NFL MVP as well.

Going into the 2016 season, the biggest question marks for the Cowboys were on the defensive side of the ball.

We would still be lying to you if we said that Dallas had the personnel to be one of the top defensive teams in the league. But thanks to their ball controlling offense, defense hasn’t remained on the field for long stretches of time; they are enjoying one of their top statistical seasons in recent memory. To put this numerically, the Cowboys rank second in time of possession (31:49 per game). They also rank fifth in the league in points allowed per game (19).

Are the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Contenders or Pretenders?
The Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl hopes ride on the shoulders of Dak Prescott | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

At 11-2 (remember, were it not for poor clock management they could be 11-1) the Cowboys have experienced the best start in the league this year. Does that mean we should consider them unquestioned Super Bowl contenders in 2016? To be perfectly honest, it’s likely still too early to answer that question (Elliott and Prescott have yet to play in a postseason game). However, we have a pretty good idea as to which direction we lean — and it may surprise you.

In our eyes, the Cowboys are built for success in the postseason. They now have a clutch quarterback that is a perfect fit in their run-first offense; they have an MVP-caliber running back; they have the best offensive line the NFL has seen in a really long time; their defense is vastly improved; and their entire team plays with an unmistakable swagger.

Only time will tell how this plays out. But based on what we have seen, we can comfortably say that the Cowboys are absolutely serious Super Bowl contenders in 2016.

Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference and ESPN.