The 1974 NFL Draft class of the Pittsburgh Steelers is widely considered the best ever as the club landed four future Pro Football Hall of Famers in USC wide receiver Lynn Swann at No. 21 overall, Kent State linebacker Jack Lambert at No. 46, Alabama A&M receiver John Stallworth at No. 82 and Wisconsin center Mike Webster at No. 125. All four players earned four Super Bowl rings with the dynastic Steelers.
It's way too early to say the Dallas Cowboys' draft class of 2016 is among the best ever, but it's off to quite a start. No. 4 overall pick Ezekiel Elliott had one of the greatest seasons for a Cowboys running back ever - not to mention any NFL rookie back. Yet he couldn't even beat out quarterback teammate Dak Prescott, the No. 135 pick, for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. The highest-rated player in that Cowboys draft class, before blowing out his knee in his final college game, was Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was the No. 34 pick. Smith didn't play at all last season, but if he can ever overcome his devastated knee and live up to his billing, that's going to be one special group.
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Elliott and Prescott led Dallas to the conference's best record (13-3) and NFC East title last year, but that iffy Cowboys defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers in a thrilling divisional-round home loss. It's vital that the Cowboys reach a Super Bowl while Prescott is on arguably the best contract in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks reached two Super Bowls, winning one, while third-round QB Russell Wilson was on his cheap rookie deal but haven't gotten back since. Once you must pay a star quarterback market value, your whole salary cap is out of whack. Prescott will have a cap hit of just $635,848 this year and no more than $816,000 the following two. The window is open the next three years in a big way for America's Team!
Dallas was 6-2 on the road last season (one loss the team didn't care), 5-3 against the spread and 2-6 "over/under." The Cowboys travel to three teams that made the playoffs last year: Atlanta, Oakland and division rival NY Giants. I project the Boys to go 4-4 on the road. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 17 at Broncos (pick'em): Cowboys are off a Sunday night opener against the rival Giants. At least if you have to visit Denver, do it in September while it's still nice. The Cowboys get a second break here in that it's a short week for the Broncos as they host the L.A. Chargers in the second Monday night game of Week 1. I had this game circled once it was clear the Cowboys were going to part ways with Tony Romo, but he opted for a TV job at CBS over playing with either Denver or Houston. Key trend: Cowboys 4-2 ATS in September road games as a favorite of 2.5 points or fewer.
Sept. 25 at Cardinals ( +2): Monday night game - as usual, the NFL's most popular team will be on prime time often this season. This will be at least 50 percent Cowboys fans as they always travel to the Phoenix area well (or simply live there). In their last three trips to University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cowboys have lost in overtime twice and once on a missed PAT. These two also open the preseason against one another in the Hall of Fame Game, so no chance you see any starters there. Key trend: Cowboys have lost their past three SU & ATS as a road favorite in series.
Oct. 22 at 49ers (+8.5): Dallas comes off its bye week. This screams possible trap game with a divisional trip to the hated Redskins up next. The Cowboys won in Santa Clara 24-17 in 2016 but didn't play well at all, falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter to the putrid Niners. Elliott ran for 138 yards and a touchdown, and Prescott threw for two scores in the comeback. Key trend: Cowboys 7-3 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Oct. 29 at Redskins (+2.5): First chance for potentially wintry weather for Dallas, and if the Cowboys can win this game they could be in great shape for repeating in the division with four of the next five at home. The Cowboys nearly started 0-2 last year, but Prescott led them to a 27-23 comeback win at the Skins in Week 2. Elliott fumbled twice and was replaced late in the fourth quarter in likely his worst game as a rookie. Key trend: Cowboys have won past three as road favorite in series but covered just once.
Nov. 12 at Falcons (-1): Dallas off a tough home game vs. Kansas City in Week 9. This would have been the NFC title game matchup had Dallas beaten the Packers in last year's playoffs, only the Cowboys would have hosted Atlanta. This will be Dallas' first trip to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Key trend: Cowboys 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road dog vs. anyone of under 2.5 points.
Dec. 10 at Giants (+1): Dallas off three straight at home and on extra rest after hosting Washington on Thursday night in Week 13. The Giants were 2-0 last year against Dallas, winning 10-7 at home in Week 14 in the Cowboys' lowest-scoring game. They entered on an 11-game winning streak but were held to 260 yards and 1-for-15 on third down. Key trend: Cowboys 2-8 ATS in past 10 as road favorite in series.
Dec. 17 at Raiders (pick'em): This is a TV network's absolute dream game now that the Raiders are good again. It's a Sunday night matchup, and I can't see any chance it's flexed out. It's Oakland's home finale and should be the Cowboys' final-ever trip to the Black Hole unless something happens with the Raiders' Las Vegas move. Key trend: Cowboys 3-7 ATS in past 10 at AFC West teams.
Dec. 31 at Eagles (TBA): No Week 17 early lines with too much potentially up in the air on the final day of the season. How popular are the Cowboys? This is their only scheduled 1 p.m. ET road game. This one should definitely be played in wintry weather. The Cowboys have won six of their last seven games at Lincoln Financial Field but lost 27-13 in Week 17 last year in a meaningless game. That would be Romo's final time taking the field as a Cowboys as he threw a TD in a quick cameo. Prescott barely played and Elliott didn't. Key trend: Cowboys 6-4 ATS in past 10 December games in Philly.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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