The Comeback is previewing all 32 NFL teams from worst to first leading up to the start of the 2017 regular season on Sept. 7. Coming in at No. 15 on our rankings are the lightning rod Dallas Cowboys.

2016 in a nutshell: Quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott were the best two rookies in the NFL (and two of the best in NFL history), the offensive line was arguably the best in football and the defense did just enough to give those guys consistent chances to win. Dallas finished 13-3, but fell short of the Super Bowl for the 21st consecutive year. How has it been that long?

What’s different: At least for now, Elliott is suspended for the first six games of the regular season. And he and Prescott aren’t going to surprise opposing defenses this season anyway. The Cowboys also lost several key defensive backs.

Why they could be awesome: The line still has three superstars in left tackle Tyron Smith, right guard Zack Martin and center Travis Frederick, the receiving corps remains strong, and Prescott and Elliott could be even better after their first full offseasons.

Why they could suck: Sophomore slumps are real. If Elliott’s suspension holds up, he’ll be gone nearly half the season. Dez Bryant is injury-prone. Jason Witten is old. Smith is having back issues. And a so-so defense probably got worse.

Major additions: Veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll, who is on the wrong side of 30 and is fighting DWI charges, and first-round rookie pass-rusher Taco Charlton, who is raw after making just 15 starts in four years at Michigan. Dallas is also hoping to get contributions from talented linebacker Jaylon Smith, who missed his entire rookie season due to the lingering effects of a major knee injury.

Major losses: Defensive backs Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and J.J. Wilcox, who played a combined 2,643 snaps on D last season. Oh, and underrated left guard Ronald Leary also left in free agency.

Breakout watch: The secondary got a lot younger, and they’ll be looking for two youngsters in particular — third-year safety Byron Jones and second-year corner Anthony Brown — to play big roles. Both had impressive 2016 campaigns, especially as the season progressed.

Position to watch: That vaunted offensive line is experiencing more change than it is used to. The big three are still there, but Smith has been hampered by a bad back and they’re looking to talented but relatively unproven younger guys Jonathan Cooper and La’el Collins to replace Leary and Doug Free at left guard and right tackle. They’re both first-round-caliber players, so it’s actually possible the line gets better.

Prediction: It’s been more than a decade since the same team won the NFC East two years in a row, and I think it’ll be hard for the Cowboys to buck that trend. They’re trying to overcome a few major losses and quite a lot of offseason turmoil (a handful of players are facing early-season suspensions, so it’s not just an Elliott thing). In a highly competitive division, they’re likely to fall back to earth in 2017.

8-8, 3rd place in the NFC East

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com, a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at CBSSports.com, Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Comeback Media, but his day gig has him covering the NFL nationally for Bleacher Report.

  • Jr. stacy

    You obviously know little about football or at least the Cowboys roster and players. And I just can not figure out why Dak has to have a slump while everyone says Wentz will get better in his second year. Can’t have it both ways depending on who you like. Look me up I would love to place a wager on your 8-8 prediction.