Dak Prescott Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, pictured in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 15, 2017 in Arlington, Texas, give the Dallas Cowboys a chance to reach the 2018 Super Bowl. Getty Images

The 2016 NFL season ended the same way it has five times in the last 15 years—with the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl. They made a historic comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, avoiding a matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, who had been the NFC’s No. 1 team in the regular season.

This past season appeared to be Dallas’ best chance of returning to the Super Bowl since they last reached the game in 1996. The Cowboys had a two-game edge over the Falcons with a 13-3 record, owning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Dallas’ journey was cut short in the divisional playoffs, where they suffered a loss at home to the Green Bay Packers. But despite an earlier exit than many expected, the Cowboys have a bright future, and they might be most equipped to keep Tom Brady from winning a sixth championship.

New England is favored to win Super Bowl LII in 2018, but Dallas isn’t far behind them. Less than two days after the conclusion of Super Bowl LI, the Cowboys have +750 title odds at Bovada.lv, putting them ahead of both the Falcons and Packers.

It can be difficult to predict which teams will contend in the 2017 season. A lot can happen in the offseason between free agency and trades, and the NFL Draft is still nearly three months away. Dallas, however, will retain their key players, giving them a good chance to repeat as NFC East champions.

The NFC East should once again be among the league’s toughest divisions. The New York Giants tied for the NFC’s second-best record, and they return arguably the NFL’s best defense. The Washington Redskins could have a top offense if quarterback Kirk Cousins re-signs with the team, and the Philadelphia Eagles might be better after going 7-9.

But Dallas is the division’s most talented team, and their young stars should only improve over the next few years.

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott proved to be the best rookie quarterback-running back tandem in NFL history. Prescott performed like a top-five signal caller in his first season as a starter, and he performed like a star in Dallas’ playoff loss. Elliott is inarguably one of the NFL’s top two running backs, leading the league with 1,631 rushing yards.

The Cowboys are likely to lose some players in free agency. Wide receiver Terrance Williams and cornerback Morris Claiborne could be headed elsewhere, and safety Barry Church is also looking for a new contract. Tony Romo didn’t start a game last season, and the Cowboys will almost certainly trade him this offseason.

The team’s most important unit will remain intact. Dallas has the NFL’s best offensive line, and all five starters are set to return in 2017. The unit allowed Prescott and Elliott to thrive as first-year players, and they should ensure that the Cowboys will have a top offense next season.

Atlanta made their way through the NFC playoffs and nearly upset New England with the NFL’s most explosive offense. Dallas has the personnel to be that team next year and potentially win their first title in two decades.