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In Depth 2015: Dallas Cowboys

Dallas faced low expectations heading into 2014, but the Cowboys made in-depthclear from the outset that they planned to exceed them. The ‘Boys started 6-1 and dominated the NFC East, claiming a playoff spot for the first time since 2009. They finished the season by scoring 165 points in the final four regular season games, won a matchup against Detroit in round one of the playoffs and played right with Green Bay before bowing out in controversial fashion in the division round.

In order to repeat, the 2015 Cowboys will have to do so without 2014 All-World RB DeMarco Murray. The team let him go in free agency, going instead – at least to this point – with Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and a collection of backups who to this point in their careers have not shown a lot. So the team is banking on an also All-World offensive line to prove the offense can stay as real this year as it was last year.

Dallas also could use continued improvement from a defense that picked up the pace in 2014 with a group built more on enthusiasm and chips-on-the-shoulder rather than talent.

So can this bunch stage a repeat or take it a step further? Or was 2014 the mirage to be followed by a disappearing act in 2015? Steven Mullenax, editor of The Landry Hat, returns to share some insights.

Zoneblitz: Well, with expectations relatively low in 2014, Dallas went 12-4, then won a playoff game and was narrowly and controversially knocked off in a second. What brought on the turnaround and how would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Baltimore Ravens

Never write off the Ravens. After a Super Bowl championship send legend LB Ray Lewis into retirement, Baltimore in-depthlost several other players to salary cap woes and missed the playoffs. But it didn’t take long to rebound.

Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh combined to put together a solid group in 2014, and Joe Flacco continued his climb toward the top level of NFL QBs during a 10-6 season that culminated in win over rival Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs.

The Ravens came up short the next week in their efforts to knock off the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots, but the team also served notice that it wasn’t staying down for long. Can this bunch make another leap forward and contend for a deeper run in 2015? Kyle Casey, a contributing writer at Russell Street Report, provides some insight.

Zoneblitz: After a year out of the playoffs, Baltimore went 10-6 and advanced to the second round of the postseason. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers in 2014 didn’t match the 12-4 regular season mark put up a year earlier. But despite salary in-depthcap woes and several free agent losses, the team did finish strong, capturing the NFC South for the second consecutive year with a 7-8-1 mark. And, unlike the previous year, the 2015 Panthers won a playoff game.

So hopes are high heading into 2016 that franchise QB Cam Newton can continue his growth and that the pass defense improves, getting Carolina’s defense back close to the level it reached in 2014.

Can the Panthers take the next step and challenge for a Super Bowl appearance? Or will the roar dissipate in 2015? Ken Dye, a writer at Carolina Cat Chronicles, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: The Panthers won the NFC South, but at an underwhelming 7-8-1 record. They did win a playoff game before bowing out. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Arizona Cardinals

No team started the 2014 season faster than the Arizona Cardinals, finished the first two-and-a-half months of the in-depthseason at 9-1. But a spate of injuries, particularly at the QB position, conspired to make the rest of the season a challenge.

But this once beleaguered franchise has won 21 games now in two seasons, has put together a solid defense and may be putting together the parts to make another run. Can Carson Palmer team with the defense to give the team the boost it needs to take it to the next level? Or is there another bottoming out on the way? Scott Allen, editor of Raising Zona, shares his insights.

Zoneblitz: The Cardinals were great at the start, then started losing QBs and fell apart late, losing in round one of the playoffs. What’s your assessment of the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Detroit Lions

The days of woeful football in Detroit are over. The Lions finished 11-5 in 2014, putting forth the second-most wins in-depththe team has produced in a season since 1970. The season ended with a disappointing first round playoff loss, but signs are pointing up.

Still, there are issues heading into 2015. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone off of what was a top-notch defensive line. And offensively the offensive line has not sufficiently protected Matthew Stafford in recent years.

With free agency signings like Haloti Ngata and draft picks like Laken Tomlinson, however, optimism is high in the Motor City. Can the Lions take the next step? Or is this good team going to take a step back toward the pack in a competitive NFC North? Alex Reno, a writer with Pride of Detroit, shares his insights.

Zoneblitz: Detroit went 11-5 in 2014, the second most wins the team has had in a season since 1970, but lost in the first round of the playoffs, extending that drought to 1991. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

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