It's been an offseason flush with rhetoric in the football capital of the world. Tony Romo has altered his mechanics and will have new responsibilities, Jerry Jones and his 40-year-old brain are fired up and Stephen Jones thinks the Dallas Cowboys have some sort of secret sauce.
Enough talk. In mere days, the 'Boys will kick off the 2013 regular season, trying to end a drought in which they've finished third in the NFC East three consecutive years.
Here, before things get underway, are our predictions for "America's Team" in 2013.
Offensive MVP: Dez Bryant
It's Bryant's time to become a bona fide star. He was dominant throughout the second half of the 2012 campaign and will only get better with age. He's got plenty of support with Jason Witten and a healthy Miles Austin preventing defenses from keying too heavily on him, so expect an All-Pro campaign from the 24-year-old.
Defensive MVP: Sean Lee
Lee has to prove that he can stay healthy, but so long as that happens, he'll be the most dominant defensive player in Dallas this season. DeMarcus Ware is aging and Anthony Spencer is still injured, and those two cross each other out a little. But the stars are aligning for the 27-year-old Lee to have a breakout season in the middle of Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense.
Best Rookie: DeVonte Holloman
It's not as though first-round pick Travis Frederick won't have a strong season as the new starting center, but we've got a special feeling about Holloman, who flashed his playmaking ability during the preseason and could eventually get a chance to start in place of Justin Durant on the strong side of the linebacking corps. He had no business dropping to the sixth round of the 2013 draft, so look for Holloman to prove a lot of people wrong during his rookie campaign.
Most Improved Player: Ronald Leary
We've heard so much about the undrafted Memphis product the last two summers, but he'll finally make his regular season NFL debut the moment he's recovered from minor knee surgery. That could mean he's the starting left guard Week 1, and if that's the case, don't expect Leary to surrender said role all year. The guy is simply solid, and he should bring some much-needed stability to that interior offensive line.
Biggest Disappointment: Morris Claiborne
Later in the week, we'll take a closer look at the injury troubles Claiborne has been dealing with since being drafted in 2012. He lacked consistency in 15 starts as a rookie but has been sidelined through much of his first full offseason with the Cowboys. Now he's entering Year 2 with a whole new scheme to adjust to, so even if the 2012 first-round pick can stay healthy all season, look for him to experience some more growing pains in 2013.
Why They Can Win the Super Bowl
On paper, this is a Super Bowl-caliber roster. They have blue-chip, Pro Bowl-worthy players at all three layers of the defense, a veteran quarterback with top-10 numbers, three extremely talented weapons through the air, an improving offensive line and—in case you've forgotten—the extremely talented DeMarco Murray in the backfield. No reason this lineup can't finally prevail.
Why They Can't Win the Super Bowl
Romo has led them to just one playoff victory in seven years, almost everyone on D is injury-prone and Jason Garrett might not have what it takes to be a successful NFL head coach. There's a lot of potential, but recent results aren't in this team's favor.
2013 Prediction: 11-5, First Place in NFC East; Lose NFC Championship Game to Packers
If the core currently in place is ever going to bust out and do something special, this is absolutely the year. Ware, Spencer, Lee, Bruce Carter and Brandon Carr are on top of their game on defense, while Romo, Witten and Austin are in their prime. Left tackle Tyron Smith should only get better, as should Bryant. The coaching staff has some stability with Kiffin replacing Rob Ryan and Bill Callahan taking over play-calling duties. Everything that needs to be in place is in place. I have my reservations, but the 'Boys are due.
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