There's a lot of promise around the Cowboys this season -- an optimism that's not unfounded. A healthy Romo remains a top-10 quarterback. As we saw against the Seahawks, rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is The Real Deal. Dez Bryant is back, pissed about his Madden rating and ready to reclaim his place in the top tier of receivers. Then there's that overpowering offensive line, fully capable of taking each of those chess pieces to a higher level.
I won't dig in on the defense because, well, that side of the ball is decidedly less promising. But with the offense operating a ball-control game plan (think back to Cowboys' 2014 attack with DeMarco Murray), the defense won't need to be dominant. If Rod Marinelli can scheme up a top-20 unit -- in other words, stay on the right side of dreadful -- Dallas should be in good position to take back the mediocre NFC East.
Throw in the wildly entertaining preseason emergence of Dak Prescott (remember when everyone was wringing their hands over Kellen Moore?) and we have all the makings of one of the more intriguing teams in the NFL. Love or hate the Cowboys, you have to admit it's always more fun when they're relevant.
The Cowboys' 2016 season will (possibly) play out in one of the following ways ... but which will it be?
THE DIE COMES UP "2"
Romo completes 12 games. His back hurts ... all the time. Dallas goes 7-5 in his starts. Elliott rushes for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Bryant causes controversy with some pro-Dak sentiment in an ill-advised ESPN The Magazine profile. The Cowboys play the Eagles on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 17 with the NFC East title on the line. A banged-up Romo throws two killer picks, and the Cowboys lose by double digits and finish 8-8. A report surfaces after the game that Romo is pondering retirement.
THE DIE COMES UP "4"
Romo plays four games before re-injuring his clavicle. Prescott takes over and provides a spark, displaying immediate chemistry with Bryant, Jason Witten and -- surprisingly -- a rejuvenated Lucky Whitehead. The Cowboys finish 10-6, capture the NFC East and win a playoff game. Prescott looks like the future. Jason Garrett calls the season "promising" and an offseason of Romo trade rumors begins.
THE DIE COMES UP "3"
Romo plays seven games before a hit to his lower back causes him to involuntarily raise his right arm with excessive force, leading to another clavicle injury. Dak takes over and is just OK, leading Cris Collinsworth to curiously describe the young passer as a "sexier John Beck" during one prime-time telecast. The Cowboys finish 7-9 and Garrett pays the price with his job. Jerry Jones vows to build around a healthy Tony Romo in 2017.
THE DIE COMES UP "6"
Romo stays upright and has his moments, but Elliott steals the show -- winning the rushing title and cementing himself as the biggest star in Big D. In November, Stephen Jones tells the Dallas Morning News that Elliott has a chance to be the greatest player ever. Despite Elliott's greatness, the Cowboys' defense is a sieve, finishing "Rob Ryan bad," according to one Cowboys insider (probably Chris Christie). An 8-7-1 record is enough to win the division, but Dallas is bounced out of the Wild Card Round by the Vikings in another dismal defensive showing. Marinelli gets the boot. The Cowboys have a predictably reactive draft, selecting defensive players with all eight picks.
THE DIE COMES UP "1"
The Darkest Timeline unfolds. Romo wakes up Saturday morning and can't get loose. While attempting a stretching exercise in his living room, he loses his balance, falls into his coffee table and fractures his clavicle. Dak takes over and is overwhelmed, leading the league in interceptions for two months before being benched in favor of Brandon Weeden, re-acquired in a trade days earlier. Bryant, concerned that leaky quarterback play will further impact his Madden rating, has his agent leak a report that he wants to play for a winner -- preferably in New England. Zeke Elliott gets caught buying a gas mask bong, Garrett resigns and Jerry Jones fires, then re-hires, himself as general manager.
THE DIE COMES UP "5"
The Prime Timeline. Romo turns back the clock and doesn't miss a start. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing behind a dominant line and becomes the second rookie to win Offensive Player Of The Year honors (joining "The Tyler Rose" himself, Earl Campbell). Bryant catches 13 of Romo's 32 touchdown passes. Marinelli coaches up the D well enough to get interviews in January. The Cowboys go 12-4, secure a bye for the first time in nine years, embarrass the Cardinals, then beat the Seahawks in an NFC Championship Game known as "The Pancake Affair" (that's a story for another day). In Super Bowl LI, the Cowboys roll up 557 yards of total offense in a blowout win over the Chiefs. Jerrah commissions a statue of himself to be erected at every major point of entry into the Dallas metro area.