The National Football League opens their 2021 preseason schedule this Thursday with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys meeting in the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
Last year, you may recall, the NFL skipped the preseason due to the virus but were able to get in the entire regular season and the expanded postseason schedule. Threading the needle during the pandemic required a number of rescheduled games that necessitated for the first time ever the league staging a game on every day of the week.
This year, the league will not be so kind to teams that have outbreaks of Covid-19. Because the vaccine offers relief for nearly all the most serious complications from the virus and has proven successful in stemming the spread of the coronavirus, a team that has an outbreak this season will not get a chance to make up their game, but rather forfeit the result and not get paid.
Sounds severe, and some players have cried foul and been vocal in their opposition to having to get the life saving vaccine.
That discussion is for another report, while we will move onto the preseason looking for what teams are most likely to jell and pay dividends against the point spread. Ultimately, when the Super Bowl is played next February, we expect it will include two of the likely candidates or one of the few dark horses with a real shot at winning it all. By our current calculations, as many as a dozen teams could conquer Super Bowl LVI with good reasons going in for why they are poised to succeed.
Both teams that participated in last year's title game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, are capable of winning it all this year. Of the two teams that meet this Thursday in Canton, the Steelers and Cowboys, one might think either of these teams could be in the mix.
They’d be wrong.
The Steelers are a perennial postseason combatant but lost their opening round game last year to the Cleveland Browns after winning the AFC North title. They have an even more uphill battle this year after they outperformed their talent last season. Pittsburgh is running low on star power and their long-time starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is not a good bet to get through the 17 regular season games without missing action with an injury. By the way, that is not the number of weeks for the regular season this year, but the actual number of games each team is scheduled to play in 2021.
The Steelers made the playoffs last year even with a team in decline. That does not bode well for their 2021 prospects.
The Cowboys and Steelers have 11 Super Bowl wins between them, Dallas has won five and Pittsburgh six. And while we don’t see the Steelers adding to their Vince Lombardi Trophy collection this season, the Cowboys are one of the three possible winners with long odds.
In his first season at the helm of the Cowboys, Head Coach Mike McCarthy was expected to be the final piece in Jerry Jones’ team to return to Super Bowl glory.
Didn’t turn out that way last season.
Even before Quarterback Dak Prescott was injured early in the season, Dallas did not have the look of a serious contender. By season end, McCarthy’s first campaign in Big D was more likely the start of a short stint with the Cowboys instead of a return to glory.
But, last year the Cowboys opened the season with expectations that far outweighed their actual talent level. This year, they come in with expectations below their talent level. When a team has hopes higher than talent they are prone for a severe drop in effectiveness. On the other hand, when their talent exceeds their expectations, great things can happen.
The Steelers are not bound for Super Bowl LVI, the Cowboys could be. And while the preseason is little more than practice against a live opponent, I like the chances of Dallas beginning the process of rekindling McCarthy’s career with a win on Thursday.
Qoxhi Picks: Dallas Cowboys (+1½) over Pittsburgh Steelers