By Shawn Lealos

The Dallas Cowboys face one of their most legendary rivals in the opening weekend of the 2014 NFL season. For many years, the Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers battled to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl each season. In the ’80s, it was San Francisco that many credited with starting the downfall of the Cowboys and then in the ’90s, Dallas roared back to life and took control once again by knocking off the 49ers.

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While the Cowboys have been struggling for a very long time now to contend, San Francisco has surged back to life and had become one of the best teams in the entire NFL once again. San Francisco finds itself one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance and a contender to make it back there once again in 2014.

Colin Kaepernick heads into the 2014 NFL season looking to lead his 49ers back to the NFC Championship game for the fourth consecutive year, although they only made it past that point once. This season, he even has some improved weapons as former Buffalo Bills star receiver Stevie Johnson has joined a receiver corps that includes Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton.

In the past three seasons, head coach Jim Harbaugh has won games with one of the most stifling defenses in the NFL, but this season he hopes his offense can help push them to the next level. San Francisco finished the 2013 NFL season ranked 24th in the NFL in total offense and only 30th in passing the ball. If their third ranked rushing offense from last season carries over, the new additions might make them a powerhouse on both sides of the ball.

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With the added weapons in the receiver corps, as well as the reliable Frank Gore and explosive rookie Carlos Hyde joining up with wildcard Marcus Lattimore in the backfield, this could be a 49ers offense no one has seen since the days of Steve Young.

However, San Francisco lives and dies behind the power and might of their defense. In 2013, San Francisco finished third in points allowed and fifth in total defense, a major reason they returned to the NFC Championship game. If they want to separate themselves from the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West, they will have to keep that defense intact while continuing to improve on the other side of the ball as well.

The Dallas Cowboys head into the 2014 NFL season hoping to somehow overcome an uphill battle to make the playoffs. Their first game, however, will be against a team that is a favorite to not just make the playoffs, but also to make it back to the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons. 

For more Cowboys news and updates, visit Cowboys Central.

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Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.