Here's a look at the first half of the season for the Dallas Cowboys and a preview of what to expect in the second half:
First-half snapshot: The Cowboys lost as many games in their first five weeks as they did all of last season. With Ezekiel Elliott playing in the first eight games, there has to be disappointment at the slow start, especially considering expectations entering the season. Dak Prescott has answered any sophomore-slump questions, Elliott found his footing after a slow start (more on him later), and DeMarcus Lawrence is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. But losing two games when the offense put up 30 points in back-to-back home games could come back to haunt the Cowboys. Grade: Average.
Midseason MVP: Prescott. He entered the season with some wondering how he would follow up his rookie season. He has not disappointed. He had a stretch of three straight games with three touchdown passes, something only Don Meredith and Tony Romo have done in team history. He has made big plays from the pocket and outside the pocket and become one of the biggest team leaders. Sometimes it is easy to forget he is only in his second season.
Best moment: When Jaylon Smith suffered a serious knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame, many believed his playing days were over. After missing last season because of rehab, Smith has played in every game this season and leads the team in tackles. He started the first five games, mostly because he was pressed into service, but his productivity has increased playing in a job-sharing role the last few weeks. He secured his first career sack against the 49ers and nearly had his first interception. He is far from a finished product, but his comeback story needs to be lauded, considering he could not lift his toes at this time a year ago.
Worst moment: The Cowboys will curse Aaron Rodgers for years to come. He ended their 2016 with an improbable third-and-20 completion that led to the game-winning field goal in the divisional round of the playoffs in January. On Oct. 8, he delivered a touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds to go to help the Green Bay Packers beat the Cowboys, 35-31. Rodgers’ heroics overshadowed Prescott’s after he scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:13 to play. If the Cowboys end up missing the playoffs by a game, they can once again throw darts at Rodgers.
Second-half outlook: The Cowboys might not have Ezekiel Elliott for six of the final eight games of the season, depending on how the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rules. With Elliott, the Cowboys could be one of the best teams in the NFC even with the Philadelphia Eagles holding the best record in football. Without Elliott, the Cowboys can still be effective but their margin of error drops. The Cowboys have confidence in Elliott’s potential replacements, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden, but more will fall on Dak Prescott to make the critical plays and the defense to be opportunistic.