NFL Power Rankings: Can beat-up Cowboys survive through Dak Prescott's injury?

·15 min read

Dak Prescott tried to quell the panic around the Dallas Cowboys. Everyone saw through that.

Prescott will miss several weeks after having surgery on a fractured thumb. That would be brutal if it was the Cowboys' only injury situation, but it's not. Dallas looked bad in a season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and go forward with Cooper Rush at quarterback and a beat-up supporting cast. Oddsmakers downgraded the Cowboys in a big way. The few who had preseason hope for the Cowboys are jumping ship, and it makes sense.

Overreaction is the most common currency in NFL analysis, especially after Week 1. Is it possible there's overreaction going on and the Cowboys can survive Prescott's injury? It's hard to see now, but maybe.

The initial timetable for Prescott's injury is 6-8 weeks, according to ESPN's Todd Archer. Let's assume that's accurate — ignoring Jerry Jones' four-week prognosis — and look at the Cowboys' upcoming schedule:

Week 2: vs. Bengals
Week 3: at Giants
Week 4: vs. Commanders
Week 5: at Rams
Week 6: at Eagles
Week 7: vs. Lions
Week 8: vs. Bears
Week 9: Bye

Prescott will play as soon as he's ready, but given that the bye is at the end of that timetable, it seems likely Dallas will hold Prescott out until then. The seven games ahead of the bye are a mixed bag. Games against the Bengals, Rams and Eagles will be very tough. But games against the Giants, Commanders, Lions and Bears aren't all that bad. Let's not forget that Cooper Rush threw for 325 yards in a win over the Minnesota Vikings last season when he had to start.

The Cowboys' defense played well against the Buccaneers and Dallas still has two good running backs. They'll need to play an ugly style and grind out wins without Prescott. They're capable of playing that way. Going 3-4 in that stretch is a realistic best-case scenario. That puts the Cowboys at 3-5 and while that's not ideal, they wouldn't be finished for the season. If the Cowboys go 0-7 or 1-6, Prescott won't save them. Dallas will have to win a few games without Prescott to stay relevant this season and maybe Rush, a strong running game and a good defense can facilitate that.

If everything was good around Rush, that scenario would seem more realistic. But everything else is far from OK. Dallas' offensive line is a mess and just lost guard Connor McGovern to a high ankle sprain. He could miss some time. Starting safety Jayron Kearse suffered a knee injury in Week 1. That all came after an offseason in which the Cowboys lost or traded a lot of key pieces. This isn't the same Cowboys roster that won the NFC East last season. We saw that in the Buccaneers game before Prescott broke his thumb.

Dallas will have to play very well around Rush to stay in the NFC East race, and probably also needs the Philadelphia Eagles (or Washington Commanders and New York Giants, if you're optimistic about them) to falter a bit. The Cowboys certainly can't take on more major injuries and stay afloat.

If you squint, you can see a path out of this mess for Dallas. It'll just be a slog for the Cowboys until Prescott is ready to return. Prescott has to start hoping he has a decent reason to return in November.

Tarell Basham was one of the Dallas Cowboys who were injured during Sunday's game. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tarell Basham was one of the Dallas Cowboys who were injured during Sunday's game. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Here are the power rankings after Week 1 of the NFL season:

32. Atlanta Falcons (0-1, Last week: 32)

To lose a big lead, against a big rival in Week 1 after a great first three quarters, is gutting. The Falcons have three losses when leading by 15 points in the fourth quarter over the past three seasons; the rest of the league combined has two losses and one tie in 245 occurrences, according to CBS. Not the way Atlanta wanted to start the season.

31. New York Jets (0-1, LW: 27)

The Jets had Joe Flacco throw 59 times. Some of that is related to game script, but there's no circumstance in which the Jets should ever have Flacco throw 59 times. The Jets looked miserable in the opener and it's hard to believe Zach Wilson's return, whenever that happens, will make that big of a difference.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1, LW: 26)

Maybe Trevor Lawrence just isn't going to be as good as advertised. He missed a few passes, most notably an easy touchdown to Travis Etienne in the first quarter, that would have changed a game that the Jaguars lost by six points. Lawerence still has the benefit of the doubt on his side after a lost rookie season with a bad coach, but it would be nice if he showed more to start his second season.

29. Houston Texans (0-0-1, LW: 31)

I know it's the popular thing to rip Lovie Smith for admitting it was OK to play for a tie by punting on fourth down in overtime, but for a young team that needs some confidence, a loss after leading 20-3 on opening day would have been awful. Half-wins aren't what anyone ultimately wants, but it's still not the worst outcome.

28. Carolina Panthers (0-1, LW: 25)

The Panthers didn't run a ton of offensive plays, but 10 carries and four catches for Christian McCaffrey isn't going to cut it. The only way the Panthers will be successful is with McCaffrey carrying the team, even though that comes with the obvious risk of him potentially breaking down again.

27. Detroit Lions (0-1, LW: 24)

The Lions were in the game at the end but they can't be giving up 38 points at home. The Eagles might be pretty good this season and there's no problem in losing to them, but the defensive issues need to get fixed right away.

26. Seattle Seahawks (1-0, LW: 30)

Geno Smith's first half: 17-of-18, 164 yards, two touchdowns. Smith's second half: 6-of-10, 31 yards. Seattle's second-half possessions before killing the clock at the end: fumble, punt, punt. It was fun to get excited about Smith in the first half and it was a fun win for him and the Seahawks, but it's still an offense that will struggle more often than not.

25. Chicago Bears (1-0, LW: 29)

It was notable that Khalil Herbert got a significant role on Sunday and outplayed David Montgomery. Herbert had 45 yards and a touchdown on nine carries while Montgomery had 26 yards on 17 carries. This could morph into more of a 50-50 split than anticipated, which isn't a bad thing for the Bears. Herbert is a good back.

24. New York Giants (1-0, LW: 28)

Kadarius Toney played just seven snaps on offense. It wasn't injury related, and his playing time didn't change after rookie receiver Wan'Dale Robinson went out with an injury. Toney had just two touches, and both were rushes (one was a designed pass that he tucked and ran with when nobody was open). He had 19 yards on one of them and looked explosive. Giants coach Brian Daboll had a non-answer about personnel groupings when asked about Toney, but it's clear the 2021 first-round pick is still in the doghouse.

23. Dallas Cowboys (0-1, LW: 9)

On the bright side, Micah Parsons looked awesome. Nobody expected a sophomore slump, but it was still great to see him post a couple sacks. He'll be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate no matter how badly this season goes for the Cowboys.

22. Washington Commanders (1-0, LW: 23)

Curtis Samuel suddenly was a huge factor, leading the team with 11 targets and also getting four rushing attempts. It seems a bit odd to feature him so heavily on an offense that has Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Antonio Gibson, but at least Washington is getting some return on its free-agent investment in Samuel.

21. Tennessee Titans (0-1, LW: 20)

The Titans might be in trouble. If you can't win at home against the Giants, you're not going to win that many games. It wasn't that fluky either. The Giants out-gained Tennessee 394-359. It's only one game and it's bad to overreact to Week 1, but Tennessee's opener didn't offer many great signs.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0, LW: 22)

T.J. Watt's injury is a bad one for the Steelers, though there's hope he returns about midseason. It's not quite losing a quarterback for half a season or more, but it's close. Watt dominated Sunday's game and the Steelers can't replace that. It's especially troubling since the offense didn't look great. The Steelers needed almost a full overtime to win a game in which they were plus-five in turnover differential.

19. New England Patriots (0-1, LW: 12)

All of the concerns about the Patriots offense in the preseason carried over to the regular-season opener. Mac Jones is injured now, too. Giving up on the Patriots seems foolish. But there's a lot that needs to be fixed.

18. Arizona Cardinals (0-1, LW: 15)

The Cardinals looked bad. The defense was shredded by Patrick Mahomes. Kyler Murray didn't make anything happen. A lot of teams will lose to Kansas City this season but if it goes sour for Arizona early in the season — and it could, based on Sunday's showing — Kliff Kingsbury will face a lot of questions about his job security.

17. New Orleans Saints (1-0, LW: 18)

If the Falcons would have made a 63-yard field goal to win at the buzzer on Sunday, Marshon Lattimore's 15-yard personal foul after time had expired would have been the talk of the NFL. He's very lucky the kick was blocked. With that forgotten, we can focus on Jameis Winston coming up huge to get the Saints a go-ahead field goal after starting on his own 20-yard line with 48 seconds to go.

16. Miami Dolphins (1-0, LW: 21)

Tua Tagovailoa passed his first test. He was efficient in throwing for 270 yards, and he delivered the pass to Jaylen Waddle that Waddle turned into a game-changing 42-yard touchdown right before the first half. Tagovailoa just needs to get the ball to the Dolphins' playmakers, and he did that in Week 1.

15. San Francisco 49ers (0-1, LW: 13)

On one hand, it's hard to take too much from the 49ers' performance when the rain was so strong that Fox had to superimpose lines on the field by the fourth quarter.

But it wasn't good. A quality team can't lose to the Bears. Trey Lance didn't make enough happen. And now Elijah Mitchell is on the shelf for a couple months with a knee injury. It was a bad Week 1, rain or not. We'll see what comes next.

14. Las Vegas Raiders (0-1, LW: 16)

Davante Adams looked great in his first Raiders game. He had 17 of the Raiders' 35 targets, which won't be his target share every week, but it gives some idea of how Josh McDaniels wants to use Adams this season. He'll have a monster year.

13. Cleveland Browns (1-0, LW: 17)

The Browns are going to have to squeeze out as many wins as possible with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, and that's why it's important they have a good rookie kicker who can hit all four field-goal attempts including a clutch 58-yarder. It might not be pretty but the Browns can win that way with a strong running game and a solid defense.

12. Denver Broncos (0-1, LW: 11)

Nathaniel Hackett's explanation of the final minute on Monday night, when the Broncos ran clock instead of calling timeout to go for it on fourth-and-5, all to set up a 64-yard field goal attempt ... it's just not going to be that popular in Colorado, or anywhere else really.

11. Minnesota Vikings (1-0, LW: 19)

Justin Jefferson will get some MVP buzz at some point. He won't win because non-QBs don't get considered anymore, but he'll have the type of season that gets that kind of attention. He has a chance to set some records with Kevin O'Connell featuring him prominently.

10. Cincinnati Bengals (0-1, LW: 10)

The Bengals should be fine. They won't be minus-five in turnover margin often. But Joe Burrow got sacked seven times and forced some of those turnovers, and we have to stop putting that all at the feet of the offensive line. The line is better. Sacks can be a quarterback stat, too. Burrow needs to find the right side of the line between aggression and recklessness.

9. Indianapolis Colts (0-0-1, LW: 14)

For a second straight August, too much was made of the Colts perhaps cutting back on Jonathan Taylor's workload.

"I’m not saying he won’t lead the league in touches, because you never know how things are going to play out," Colts coach Frank Reich said in August, via ESPN. “But I almost don’t want him to.”

After one week, Taylor's 31 carries lead the league. Only one other player had more than 22. He's their best skill-position player. He'll get the ball as often as he can handle it. Let's agree to not freak out next August if Reich says otherwise.

8. Green Bay Packers (0-1, LW: 5)

A lot will be made of the receivers not showing up in Week 1, but missing key offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins was a big deal, too. It's fair to wonder if Bakhtiari, a fantastic left tackle who has played 27 snaps since tearing his ACL in 2020, will ever get right.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0, LW: 8)

The run defense was gashed by the Lions, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry. That's a concern but it seems fixable with the Eagles' personnel. There was a lot to like about the Eagles' opener and it's not like Dak Prescott's injury doesn't give them a huge boost, too.

6. Los Angeles Chargers (1-0, LW: 7)

The Chargers didn't play great but still won, which is actually a step forward. This Thursday night, when the Chargers play at the Chiefs, will be a phenomenal measuring stick for Los Angeles in what's supposed to be a breakout season.

5. Baltimore Ravens (1-0, LW: 6)

It was interesting to see Devin Duvernay, a 2020 third-round pick, emerge with a two-touchdown game. Rashod Bateman showed up as well with a long touchdown. Maybe the Ravens' receiver situation won't be that bad. But they do need more out of their running backs, whether it's the veterans on hand or J.K. Dobbins returning soon from injury.

4. Los Angeles Rams (0-1, LW: 2)

I don't think what we saw last Thursday night had much to do with the Rams. The Bills are just that good. Still, it wasn't a great performance and now the Rams are taking on some offensive line injuries. Still, there's no reason to panic yet.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0, LW: 4)

The Buccaneers won, which is the good news. The bad news is that they took on injuries to two more blue-chip players, an arm injury for left tackle Donovan Smith and a hamstring for receiver Chris Godwin. Next week they face a Saints defense that has given them a lot of problems the past two seasons.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (1-0, LW: 3)

Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco, a darling of training camp and preseason, got some run late in Week 1 and ended up rushing for 62 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. If he keeps flashing like that, the Chiefs are going to have to expand his role.

1. Buffalo Bills (1-0, LW: 1)

The Bills clearly have the ability to win a Super Bowl, but it can all come crashing to a halt if Josh Allen gets hurt. You can respect his competitiveness while also acknowledging that him initiating contact every time he runs is a bad idea. He took a lot of huge hits on Thursday night. He has to understand that he's too valuable to the Bills' season to be playing that way for 17 games.