Magnificent 7: ESPN, NFL.com agree on Cowboys’ slot in early 2022 power rankings

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Any lone set of power rankings can (and should) be taken with a grain of salt. It’s a single interpretation of one snapshot in time meant mainly to foster discussion but also to satisfy the very human need to sort things in order of importance or greatness. At its core, it’s just an opinion.

But two sets of power rankings, when viewed side-by-side, start to paint a more tangible picture of the way things truly may be.

Now that the Super Bowl and the 2021 season are in the books, thoughts have already turned to 2022. There’s plenty of roster churn to come in the next weeks with free agency, a new draft class to divvy up among the NFL’s 32 clubs, veterans who will retire, walk-ons who will impress, and trades that will shake things up for multiple teams at once. That is to say, it’s all subject to lots and lots of change.

But for now, at this moment, both NFL.com and ESPN are calling the Dallas Cowboys the seventh-best team in the league.

The Worldwide Leader released their way-too-early (by their own admission) rankings Sunday night, while the confetti was still coming down at SoFi Stadium. Todd Archer, when asked to sum up the Cowboys’ looming offseason in just three words, said, “Better win now.”

Here’s his take on the state of the team, ranked No. 7 overall:

“Mike McCarthy is on the clock, despite a 12-5 finish and NFC East title in 2021. It’s about what the Cowboys didn’t do in 2021, which was win at least one playoff game. Dan Quinn opted to remain with team, so maybe he could be the future Cowboys coach. For the Cowboys to take the next step under McCarthy, the offense has to find its form. Yes, they were No. 1 in yards and points in 2021, but those numbers are a bit hollow when looked at more closely. McCarthy’s expertise is on the offensive side of the ball. He’ll need to get the run game back in form and aid Kellen Moore when things are not going perfectly.”

Rankings from NFL.com writer Dan Hanzus came out Tuesday morning. He also slots Dallas in seventh place, with the same six teams- Rams, Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, Packers, 49ers- positioned above them (but in a slightly different order than ESPN).

Here’s what Hanzus had to say about the Cowboys:

“A 12-win season should have people feeling comfortable in a building, but that’s simply not the case in Dallas. Mike McCarthy will be under immense pressure to take the Cowboys on a deep playoff run in 2022, and the long shadow of Sean Payton (a Jerry Jones favorite currently in temporary retirement) only amplifies the stakes in Big D. The offense finished first in points and yards in 2021, but this was a hot-and-cold attack that must achieve more consistency, especially against premium opponents. The Cowboys need to find out if their impressive collection of stars has championship mettle.”

Those are strikingly similar diagnoses from two of the biggest outlets in the biz. They might be on to something.

It’s easy to tell that every win in 2022 will, in some ways, only buy McCarthy another week in the eyes of those who want him replaced by Payton. And every loss, every pre-snap penalty, every mismanaged timeout will only turn up the heat a little higher. All would be forgiven (maybe?) with a Super Bowl win, but that possibility is 362 days away.

For what it’s worth, the Cowboys could once again have a fairly clear path to the postseason, thanks to what’s currently considered by both outlets to be a relatively weak NFC East field. Here’s how the division stacks up in both sets of power rankings:

Team

ESPN

NFL.com

Dallas Cowboys

7

7

Philadelphia Eagles

19

16

Washington Commanders

25

25

New York Giants

27

29

But then again, it’s all just tea leaves and crystal balls at this early stage. So much can happen, for better or worse. Case in point: on Super Bowl night last year, ESPN had the Cincinnati Bengals 27th in 2021’s way-too-early power rankings. Two days later, NFL.com ranked them 29th on their list.

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