In the span of one afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys lost a playoff birth, a division championship, and a little bit of pride. However, there is the smallest amount of solace disheartened Cowboys fans can take from the loss. Rather than playing a first place schedule in 2012, the Cowboys will now play a third place schedule. The Philadelphia Eagles also finished 8-8 and owned the tie breaker over the Cowboys due to sweeping the regular season series with the ‘boys.
In 2012, the Cowboys will play 6 division games against the NFC East (Redskins, Eagles, & Giants). They will also play the NFC South (Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, & Panthers) and AFC North (Bengals, Ravens, Steelers, & Browns) as will the remainder of the NFC East. The schedule is a bit more forgiving to the Cowboys as they will play the respective 3rd place teams from the NFC West (Seahawks) and NFC North (Bears).
Alternatively, the Giants will play the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. The Eagles on the other hand will play the Arizona Cardinals and the Detroit Lions (two teams the Cowboys lost to in in 2011 spectacular fashion).
The Cowboys in any given week appear to be able to beat any team on their roster. This may be the most obvious statement ever made, but the Cowboys have historically played better against inferior talent than against playoff bound teams. Consequently, the Cowboys should fair better against the Seahawks and Bears than they would against the Niners and Packers. Oddly enough, I think the Cowboys would finish 1-1 in either scenario.
Looking at the 2012 schedule is a bit dispiriting because it is viewed through the prism of the 2011 collapse and poor showings against back to back division rivals. As I see it today, the Cowboys would be lucky to win 7 games in 2012, but that is the joy of an off-season. Additions will be made via the draft and free agency. Player positions will be shuffled about (Free to right tackle & Smith to left tackle). Injuries will heal and the 2011 incarnation of the Cowboys will be but a memory.