Quarterback: We know that Tony Romo isn't a fluke. He stepped in last year and had another fantastic season, setting team records in the process. There are questions remaining about distractions (Romessica) and winning a playoff game (none in his two years) which Romo must answer if he wants to take a place among the NFL's elite. Dallas is putting all their eggs in that basket as the only fallback if Romo gets hurt is 39-yr old Brad Johnson who isn't quite the risk taker. Heat Index: 9
Running backs: It's rare when a team loses their starting running back and everyone is fine with the position. Julius Jones is gone, but rookie Felix Jones is in. Jones (Felix) will get a ton of carries this season to keep Marion Barber fresh. Barber, who only started the Cowboys' playoff game, is the NFL's version of Mariano Rivera -- he dominates late in games and finishes drives off. Jones and Barber will combined for that classic "lightning and thunder" combo and should be quite successful doing it in what supposed to be a more run-friendly offense. Heat Index: 7
With the summer heat on everyone's mind, we decided to gauge each team's temperature. The higher the number, the hotter your team should be in 2008.
Offensive line: The best in the league. They sent three starters to the Pro Bowl (Flozell Adams, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode) while Marc Columbo and Kyle Kosier were more than solid. The heart and soul of this offense, they also have some nice young, talented backups in the wings. Heat Index: 10
Defensive line: This isn't an explosive line, but a very effective one. Jay Ratliff and Tank Johnson has done a bang-up job at the NT. Chris Canty is a run-stopping force at right end. The key is getting Marcus Spears to reach his lofty potential. If that happens, it could have a ripple effect throughout the defense. Heat Index: 7
Linebackers: You have to start this off by saying DeMarcus Ware is one of the best linebackers in the league. He had 14 sacks last year, excells in coverage and in the run game. Greg Ellis had a rebirth last year, living off the attention Ware gets. Second-year player Anthony Spencer should get more of an opportunity too. Inside, Zach Thomas brings his 3-4 skill from Miami. He's a bit older, but no one questions his knowledge and toughness. Bradie James will take the strong side MLB and give Thomas a chance to make more effective. Heat Index: 8
Secondary: There are some solid names and talents here ... but what really do you have? Ken Hamlin was a Pro-Bowler last season. Terrence Newman is a rock at CB, despite some training camp scrapes. The question is what will happen on the other side? Anthony Henry emerged as an outstanding #2 CB, but Dallas is toying with making him a hybrid CB/S to compensate for Roy Williams' lack of coverage skills. Opponents preyed on Williams by forcing him to cover a good tight end or an extra receiver. If Henry is changing spots, than first round pick Mike Jenkins should fill his spot. Pacman Jones comes back after some time off with the Titans to fill in a nickel or dime role. See, a lot of unknows. Heat Index: 7
Special teams: Let's look at specialists first. Nick Folk had an outstanding rookie season as the Cowboys place kicker. He made 26 of 31 FGs and hit big kicks under pressure. Punter Mat McBriar is one of the best in the league. Those things are set. Dallas also brings in what may be an explosive return game. Felix Jones is a game-breaker who was an outstanding return man in college. If Pacman Jones can get back to form, he brings Dallas another guy who can break off a huge run. And that allows Terrence Newman to concentrate on his CB duties. Heat Index: 9
Coaching: Wade Phillips is a "players-coach" which means he isn't as strict as Bill Parcells was (who is?). With all the characters on this team, that is a good thing. He also keeps applying pressure on both sides of the ball, which players love. Still, it isn't always a comfortable thing when your replacement (Jason Garrett) is on your staff. Heat Index: 7
Intangibles: Jerry Jones wants to win, which is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that he will provide you with the tools to make this happen. The curse is that you don't have much time to get this done. Also, this is the final year in Texas Stadium, so every game will have some emotion to it. Heat Index: 8
Total Heat Index: 78
Dallas is the best team in the NFC. They also play in the best division in the NFC, which brings them back to the pack somewhat. The goal is a Super Bowl and anything less is ... and should be ... disappointing.