Right after Super Bowl 55 ended, SportsLine oddsmakers favored the Dallas Cowboys to be the team that traveled to Tampa to face the defending champions Bucs in the 2021 Kickoff Game, and that was made a reality on Wednesday. Dallas opened as a 6.5-point underdog on the NFL odds. The Cowboys' annual marquee home game is on Thanksgiving, and the opponent this year is Las Vegas.
Could Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy be on the hot seat entering the 2021 season? The Cowboys were a massively disappointing 6-10 last year, but it wasn't McCarthy's fault that star quarterback Dak Prescott went down for the season in Week 5. However, McCarthy was the guy who hired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who was fired in January. Oddsmakers expect a bounce-back for Dallas with an Over/Under win total of 9.5 and the second-easiest schedule in the NFL this season.
Nolan's defense allowed the most points in franchise history (473) and finished 31st in run defense. In the season-ending loss to the Giants, they allowed 23 points, including 20 in the first half, to an offensive unit that had not scored more than 19 in five weeks. The three other times that the Cowboys allowed a franchise record in points, the organization either made a scheme change or a coaching change. In addition to Nolan, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was not brought back.
The new defensive coordinator is former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. He also served previously as the defensive coordinator in Seattle, leading that unit during the Legion of Boom era and to a Super Bowl XLVIII title.
The Cowboys added a couple of potential difference-makers on defense in free agency in former Jets edge rusher Tarell Basham and Falcons safety Keanu Neal – the 2017 Pro Bowler, who has had some trouble staying healthy of late, will move to linebacker. It's the eighth straight offseason the Cowboys have acquired another team's former first-round pick; Neal was the No. 17 overall pick in 2016 by Atlanta. Dallas also took Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons at No. 12 overall (after trading down two spots) in the draft. Parsons is the early NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite.
Prescott, meanwhile, played on the franchise tag in 2020 but agreed to a four-year, $160 million contract with a record $126 million guaranteed in March and a no-trade clause included. The two-time Pro Bowler was off to a huge start in 2020 before injuring his ankle against the Giants. Prescott's veteran backup, Andy Dalton, is now in Chicago, however.
The only team that has an easier strength of schedule by opponents' combined winning percentage in 2021 than Dallas is NFC East rival Philadelphia. The Patriots were the added 17th opponent. The Cowboys' foes were a combined 122-148-2 last year.
Dallas Cowboys trends/William Hill Sportsbook odds
- 2020 record: 6-10 (5-11, against the spread, 9-7 Over/Under)
- 2021 strength of schedule rank: 31st (opponents' combined winning percentage of .452)
- 2021 Over/Under win total: 9.5
- SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 8.8
- Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +2800
- To win NFC: +1400
- To win NFC East: +105
- To make playoffs: Yes -170, no +145
- NFL MVP odds: Dak Prescott +1800, Ezekiel Elliott +10000
Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Week 1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Kickoff Game): Cowboys' first look at Tom Brady as a Buccaneer and first trip to Tampa since 2015
Week 2 at Los Angeles Chargers: Cowboys haven't visited Chargers since a 30-21 loss in San Diego in 2013
Week 3 vs. Philadelphia Eagles (MNF): Cowboys have won and covered past three at home vs. Philly
Week 4 vs. Carolina Panthers: Carolina's first visit since 2015; Dallas has covered just two of six home meetings
Week 5 vs. New York Giants: Dallas has won past four at home in series (3-1 ATS) but didn't cover in 2020
Week 6 at New England Patriots: Added 17th opponent; Dallas has lost its past four at New England (2-2 ATS)
Week 7 BYE
Week 8 at Minnesota Vikings (SNF): Vikes were seven-point home favorites last year and lost 31-28
Week 9 vs. Denver Broncos: Denver has won its past three at Dallas but hasn't visited since 2013
Week 10 vs. Atlanta Falcons: Cowboys had a miracle comeback win over visiting Falcons last season, 40-39
Week 11 at Kansas City Chiefs: Cowboys get their first look at Patrick Mahomes and haven't been to KC since 2013
Week 12 vs. Las Vegas Raiders (Thanksgiving): The Silver & Black have won their past two at Dallas, last in 2013
Week 13 at New Orleans Saints (TNF): Dallas has won just two of its past 10 trips to New Orleans (2-8 ATS)
Week 14 at Washington Football Team: WFT was slight home dog last year and rolled to 25-3 win
Week 15 at New York Giants: Dallas' three-game winning streak at Giants ended in 23-19 defeat in 2020
Week 16 vs. Washington Football Team (SNF): WFT ended a four-game skid in Dallas last season, 41-16
Week 17 vs. Arizona Cardinals: Arizona won easily at Dallas last season 38-10 as a slight underdog
Week 18 at Philadelphia Eagles: Cowboys have scored exactly nine points in each of past two trips, both losses
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