Cowboys' Super Bowl chances seem more about hope than planning

The Cowboys are banking on a big improvement from the likes of Dak Prescott if they want to get past the likes of the Eagles to reach the Super Bowl. Elsa/Getty Images

Here's a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Dallas Cowboys, who finished the season 9-7. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do; and Nowhere close.

Westgate odds to win Super Bowl LIII: 20-1

Should contend, but there are question marks: Coming off a 13-3 record in 2016 with Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott entering their second seasons, the Cowboys had realistic Super Bowl expectations. At least it seemed. Elliott was suspended six games. Prescott's game faltered without Elliott and the Cowboys finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs in 2017.

So why don't the Super Bowl expectations remain with Elliott expected to be around for a full season, Prescott entering his third year, a still strong offensive line and a defense that played fairly well down the stretch?

Things just seem stale even if there has been changeover among the assistant coaches. Jason Garrett is entering his eighth full season as head coach and has one playoff win and two playoff appearances. While he has done a solid job in terms of keeping his team engaged and ready to play, what schematic advantage does he bring? Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was a genius of sorts in 2016 for making it work exceptionally well with a rookie quarterback in Prescott, but the Cowboys did not throw for at least 200 yards in eight games last year. Rod Marinelli's defense needs more answers in personnel and scheme, which maybe new passing game coordinator Kris Richard can help solve.

The Cowboys won't be big players in free agency, but they need to add better pieces than they have in recent years even if they don't break the bank. They have drafted better in recent years and could have 10 picks when the compensatory selections are announced, which will give them currency to add to both sides of the ball.

The Cowboys seem to be banking on the biggest improvements coming from within from the players, like Prescott, Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Chidobe Awuzie and Taco Charlton, and the coaches, like Linehan and Marinelli.

Will that be enough for the Cowboys to get to their first Super Bowl since 1995?