So it is rare to read or hear of someone picking Dallas to play all the way to Miami in February. Last year's trendy team is slotted for no better than a repeat of third place in the East if you listen to most.
The funny thing is that the Cowboys seem perfectly fine with it.
"This is the first time that we feel - not that we're being overlooked - but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference or things of that nature," quarterback Tony Romo said.
Owner Jerry Jones, always the team leader in optimism, doesn't dispute the contention that the Giants and Eagles have earned higher places in the NFC East hierarchy. At least for now.
"I think that's fair," Jones said. "I think as you step back from it, you look at some of the things Philadelphia has done in the offensive line. If you think about the Giants, they don't have Plaxico Burress, but they didn't have him a year ago."
The Eagles added a pair of tackles to protect quarterback Donovan McNabb, including Jason Peters from Buffalo, regarded as one of the best in the league. And they picked up another playmaking wide receiver in rookie Jeremy Maclin.
Which brings us back to the issue of size.
At 6-foot-0, Maclin lacks it, and last year's rookie star, 5-10 DeSean Jackson, is even smaller. But once Jackson learned not to flip the football before reaching the end zone, as he did at Texas Stadium, he produced excellent rookie credentials.
At Missouri, Maclin showed the ability to do the same.
Although the Cowboys will have a dramatically altered roster this season, at how many positions will they show dramatic improvement?
Keith Brooking at weak inside linebacker instead of Zach Thomas? Probably.
A speedier secondary, whether using four, five, or six defensive backs? Likely.
And after missing last season, left guard Kyle Kosier returns to upgrade that position.
Are these the kinds of missing pieces that will lift the Cowboys past the Eagles and Giants and back into the top spot in the NFC?
If the running backs stay healthy and the team strikes a better balance between rushing and passing, it's possible.
Without making the kinds of jaw-dropping additions that attract national attention, the Cowboys have the general appearance of a team with a real chance to make the playoffs.
And an equally real chance to miss them. Again.
"I think our standards are set really, really high by ourselves," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's not so much about what other people are picking us to do."
One season after being the team that seemed to have been kept from the Super Bowl only by a Giants team on an incredible roll, the Cowboys are back to being a contender in the NFC.
One of eight or nine.
Lots of factors can change that later, and really, that's all that matters to this team.
Being a sexy Super Bowl pick in the summer? The Cowboys tried that a year ago. It didn't go so well.
"We don't have that stigma of Super Bowl champions attached to us already," wide receiver Patrick Crayton said. "We don't have that distracting us."
It's not easy for the Cowboys to be just one of the teams out there. And it won't last for long. For a team that always knows the next big distraction is just around the corner, being back in the pack at the start of August isn't such a bad thing.