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7/17/2006

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Makeup of Cowboys' Opponents Studied
By Mike Rabun

Anyone who follows any of the NFL teams closely can rattle off multiple story lines worth exploring as the upcoming season draws near.
A resident of Green Bay, for instance, might be able to regale us with tales of kicker Ryan Longwell, who made four of his five attempts from 50 yards or more last year. Or the Packer fan might want to talk about the fact that the team gave up the fewest aerial yards in the NFL during the 2005 season but had only 10 interceptions - tied for worst in the NFC.
Outside Wisconsin, however, the first thing that would come to mind when the Packers are mentioned would probably be this:
"Why did Brett Favre come back and what happens if he throws 12 interceptions in the first three games?"
It's like that with every team. Overriding all the ins and outs that go into the makeup of a club is one item that captures the attention of the far away observer.
At the moment, the item in Dallas attracting the most attention is Terrell Owens. But you already knew that.

What we are going to do here is glance at the teams the Cowboys must deal with this season and, in effect, mention the first thing that comes to mind. At least they will probably be the first thing that comes to the minds of Dallas fans.
We start with the NFC East.

Eagles
Has the window of opportunity officially closed? When Donovan McNabb threw the interception against the Cowboys and was injured trying to make the ensuing tackle, the Eagles cratered. They did not win a division game in 2005.
Once things start to go wrong, it sometimes gets into the minds of players that they can not become completely right again. Is that the way it will be in Philadelphia?

Redskins
Has the worm turned?
For the first time since 1995 and for just the third time ever, Washington defeated the Cowboys in both of their regular season meetings last season.
If Dallas plans on winning a division title, losses to the Redskins cannot become a trend. So when Washington comes to call for a Sunday night game during the second weekend of the season, it will be a very big deal.

Giants
Eli Manning. The younger brother of Peyton did not have a gaudy quarterback rating in 2005. He barely completed half his passes. Yet he threw for 24 touchdowns, tied for most in the NFC.
Manning got the ball into the end zone and the Giants won the division. Can he do it again?
The Dallas schedule will be filled out with the following:

Jaguars
Is this a team poised for greatness? Last season's playoff appearance has Jacksonville expecting much more this year and Dallas visits the Jaguars right out of the box. Whatever the best effort from Jacksonville might be, the Cowboys are likely to see it on Sept. 10.

Titans
Vince Young. Dallas plays Tennessee in the fourth week of the season, so the jury will still be out on whether the former Longhorn will alter the game as we know it. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But until we figure out the answer, Young will be one of the chief characters in pro football.

Texans
Are they doomed to a generation of failure? Houston did not draft Reggie Bush. Houston did not draft Vince Young. Their quarterback has absorbed as much abuse as any in the history of the league. They have changed general managers. The future just doesn't look very good.

Panthers
Can they do anything but get close? Steve Smith delivered more yards and more touchdowns than any other NFC receiver last year, but it takes more than one guy. Carolina is a solid team. Just about as solid a team as there is in the league. But it appears the Panthers do not have the one explosive quality that can vault them to a Super Bowl title.

Cardinals
The new stadium. A glance at the Arizona website these days can cause a shock to the system. The first words one sees on the Cardinals' site are these - "2006 season sold out."
Arizona will have a true home field advantage as well as an improving team. The Cowboys should certainly not expect their trip to the Valley of the Sun this season to be a piece of cake. The fact that it will be the third straight road game for Dallas will make it only more difficult.

Colts
Can they win the big one? This was the question that haunted the Cowboys as the 1960s turned into the 1970s. Dallas finally got over the hurdle, but Indianapolis has yet to do so. Winning the first 13 games of the season is one thing. Losing to Pittsburgh at home in the playoffs limits a team's hope for greatness.

Buccaneers
Defense. Tampa Bay led the league in that department last year in winning the NFC South. The Bucs, however, won five of their games by four points or less. Winning teams have to have some breaks go their way and Tampa Bay got some in 2005.

Saints
What's to become of this team? The Saints' future is immersed in the future of its surroundings. No one wants the franchise to leave a city that nature has left as only a shadow of its former self. But, in time, it could happen.

Falcons
Is the bloom off Michael Vick. When Vick was healthy during the early stages of his career, Atlanta prospered. When he was injured, things turned bleak. Vick was relatively OK last season and the Falcons went 8-8. Playing in a division with Carolina and Tampa Bay means Atlanta needs the very best of Vick - and everybody else.

Lions
Is a brighter future in sight? It has been six seasons since Detroit has won more than six games. They have a four-game playoff losing streak dating to 1991. History has become weighted against them and the weight will probably remain heavy this year.

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