Three reasons Cowboys will win the Super Bowl: Dak Prescott goes on award-winning tear, defense matches serve -

It's easy to glance at rosters and coaching staffs and swing your take wildly toward pessimism or optimism, but sometimes it's simply justified. When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, even when micro analyzing the minutiae and scuba diving into nuance, it's difficult to view them as anything but a contender in 2021, if you consider all they were up against in trying to be one last season -- things that are no longer in play. Shedding a stale coaching regime for a proven head coach last year had the locker room as hopeful as it's been in more than a decade, but the wheels came off rather quickly thereafter.

The COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down the entire offseason with the exception of a truncated training camp, and the injuries took over from there. The Cowboys lost starting right tackle La'el Collins for the season and then starting tight end Blake Jarwin, before going on to lose starting left tackle Tyron Smith and two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott. The team was thrust into a maelstrom of misfortune and a carousel of poor QB play and the post-Dak portion of the season only exacerbated the issues, along with one of the worst defenses in franchise history, and then an injury to perennial All-Pro Zack Martin that ended his year in December.

Enter 2021, with Dan Quinn replacing Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator, an impressive draft haul that leans heavily on defense and an actual offseason to prepare the team -- along with the return of all aforementioned players who were lost to injury last year -- and the needle is pointing due north in Dallas. There's no reason they can't take the NFC East, but they want much more, and that's the Lombardi Trophy.

Here's three reasons they can achieve that mission in 2021.

Rayne Man

OK, let's try this again.

If you thought you saw a motivated Prescott in 2019, hold on to your knickers, because it might soon pale in comparison. 

You're going to begin hearing a lot of newfound predictions in the coming weeks regarding Prescott potentially being the front-runner for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2021, but just know this is a prediction I pushed to the center of the table back in October -- having full confidence the two-time Pro Bowler would overcome his fractured ankle. And so he has, with the ankle being arguably stronger than it was before the injury, leaving only his shoulder strain as an issue to work through. He has plenty of time to rest it for Week 1, though, and it's already "improved dramatically" to this point, so when Prescott begins his reckoning in September, he'll likely pick up where he left off as one of the most prolific passers in the game (seriously, check the numbers) and that will not only earn him CPOTY honors this coming season, but also his first league MVP honor to go along with it. 

And playing well enough to do those two things should also have the Cowboys where they want to be when February rolls around, which is everyone's top goal. With the bevy of weapons at his disposal -- add in a full traditional offseason to train with CeeDee Lamb and an extremely motivated Ezekiel Elliott -- and the return of SmithCollins and Martin to protect him with Jarwin back in the mix with a much-improved Dalton Schultz and, well, Prescott is set to prove why he was worth every ruble of that historic contract he signed in March. His ankle is fine, and so is his shoulder, other than the chip sitting atop the latter.

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The Infinity Gauntlet

There's no other way to describe the Cowboys offense going into 2020. 

When the Cowboys made the decision to draft CeeDee Lamb in 2020, they had images of sugarplums dancing through their heads in regards to what the offense could be. After all, it was a unit that -- without Lamb -- was the No. 1 overall offense in the NFL the season prior, so it stood to reason the inclusion of a dynamic talent like Lamb could only make it better, right? Right, but then Prescott was lost for the season after only five weeks and things stalled in a major way thanks to a carousel of poor quarterback play, but let's use that for some perspective here. Because even with the combined tragedy of play perpetrated upon the Cowboys offense by Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci (Garrett Gilbert was the only one who showed some moxie), and obvious disconnects between the receivers and the QBs, the Cowboys nearly had three 1,000-yard receivers last season. 

Gilbert and DiNucci have both now been released, time to reveal if either land on the practice squad for 2021.

Amari Cooper had a career-best year in receptions (92) en route to 1,114 yards, Lamb fell only 65 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark (935) and Michael Gallup finished with 843 yards on the year. Well, Prescott is back, Cooper is still Cooper, Lamb is set to be even better than he was as a record-breaking rookie and Gallup is entering a contract year that will see him (and Lamb) move around more and increase their respective route trees. This is the year the Cowboys perform the WR hat trick, with all three wideouts breaking the coveted mark in 2021 -- only the sixth time it's ever happened in NFL history.

Capital 'D'

How's this for bold -- going from one of the worst defenses in the history of the franchise to one of the best in the NFL in only one year and with a change at defensive coordinator? It's not impossible in Dallas, even if it's difficult for some to fathom before things get underway in September. Fact is, there's reason to believe they'll improve but maybe not to this degree, but if Quinn can even remotely get things clicking in a way that makes you see a flash or two of what he built in Seattle, then the Cowboys defense might finally be done with being a laughingstock. A dedication to the safety position, an all-out brawl at the LB position that is now headlined by first-round pick Micah Parsons and a mission to drastically improve the run game hints at the needle pointing north. 

There were other changes as well this offseason, one example being fully unleashing George Edwards to go hands-on with the linebackers (after convincing him to stick around) and Aden Durde replacing Jim Tomsula on the defensive line -- along with Randy Gregory primed for a breakout season opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, and more. It's a completely different energy in the locker room on defense than this time one year ago, and all things considered, the unit should realistically buoy to the top half (16th+) of the league by midseason. That's not bold enough, though, so the prediction here is top 10 -- because let's have some fun.

Dak Prescott jerseys now available

If you're a Cowboys fan, you need a Dak Prescott jersey before the new season starts! Shop the latest Dak Prescott game jerseys featuring No. 4. Click here to shop.

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Excited for the new Cowboys season? We are too! Download the CBS Sports app and get the latest insights from Patrik Walker, who's on the ground in Dallas. Plus, get the latest Dak Prescott news, Ezekiel Elliott predictions, and much more from our team of experts. If you already have the app, you need to set the Cowboys as your favorite team for up-to-the-second news and analysis.


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