NFC EastDallasLast season: 10-6, first place.Playoffs: Beat...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NFC East

Dallas

Last season: 10-6, first place.

Playoffs: Beat Vikings, 40-15, in wild-card game; lost to Panthers, 26-17, in divisional round.

Coach: Barry Switzer (39-16), fourth season with Cowboys.

Critical upgrades: When Michael Irvin was hurt in the Carolina playoff game, quarterback Troy Aikman was left without a competent receiver who knew his pass routes. That won't happen this year. The Cowboys added tight end David LaFleur in the draft and a badly needed deep threat in Anthony Miller via free agency, although Miller had a bad knee in camp. Assuming it really was health and not age that derailed Emmitt Smith, the running game should be up to snuff, as well.

Potential downfall: The Cowboys' defense and kicking game were magnificent a year ago. But kicker Chris Boniol and punter John Jett left through free agency, gutting the kicking game. The defense finally lost end Charles Haley to retirement, and lost three linebackers to free agency, the most critical of which was Darrin Smith. But the biggest loss is defensive tackle Leon Lett, out the first 13 games for a substance-abuse violation.

Key stat: Only one of the Cowboys' 29 turnovers resulted in a touchdown, best ratio in the league.

Ticket to San Diego: They have to play in rabid Green Bay in late November, three weeks after they visit San Francisco. Those two road games likely will mean the difference in home-field advantage through the postseason.

Division glance

Dirtiest player: OT Erik Williams, Cowboys.

Underachiever: WR Michael Westbrook, Redskins.

Overachiever: DT Andy Harmon, Eagles.

Past his prime: RB Rodney Hampton, Giants.

Pink slip in the mail: Barry Switzer, Cowboys.

First quarterback benched: Dave Brown, Giants.

Rookie to watch: TE David LaFleur, Cowboys.

Best acquisition: WR Anthony Miller, Cowboys.

Sleeper team: Redskins.

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