Dec 17, 2011; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) reacts during the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

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Well, at least THEIR Super Bowl.  It was announced on Monday that the 2012 NFL season will kick off on Wednesday, September 5th with a prime time game between the Dallas Cowboys and the defending world champion New York Giants in New Jersey.   What a way to start the season!  This will be as big of a game for the Cowboys as any Super Bowl.  Win, and they are a game up in their division on the Giants and create a ton of confidence and positive momentum for the balance of the season.  Lose, and they are already a game down and the ghosts of seasons past will once again be roaming the halls in Valley Ranch.  But, this is a good thing for a number of reasons.

Jan 1, 2012; Mandatory Credit: Jim O

First, the Cowboys did not play the division-rival Giants until week 14 last season losing a heartbreaker 37-34 in Dallas and giving up 400 yards passing in a defensive embarrassment.  They then had to play them again 3 weeks later in New Jersey with the division title on the line.  As we all know, they lost that game too but that one wasn’t even close.  Speculation is a dangerous game, but how different might the season have been had the Cowboys caught the Giants during their mid-season 4-game losing streak instead of at the front end of their eventual march to the championship?   True, the calendar shouldn’t matter but the modern version of the Cowboys for some unknown reason has issues with games in December.  The historical record would clearly say its not imaginary and in 2011 they once again lost 3 of their last 4 games.  Any time we can play an important division game outside of December, that’s a positive for the Cowboys.

Secondly, when the Cowboys came within a 2-yard overthrown pass to Miles Austin of winning that game and lost, no one on the team would say it out loud but that broke their spirit.   They were done – the collective impact of that loss on top of the season-opening collapse against the Jets, the complete meltdown against Detroit, and the agonizing loss against the Patriots were just too much.   They won only one more game against the overmatched Tampa Bay Buccaneers after that December 11th Giants game and looked pretty listless doing it.  If the Cowboys fail to win this season-opening rematch with the Giants, they will still have an entire season and another 15 games to recover.

Thirdly, every team is “up” for the season opener.  The Cowboys will be excited to strap on their pads for real after the “pretend” games that make up the preseason where the starters don’t play a lot and no team wants to show any of their offensive or defensive playbooks.  And, it will be against the hated division-rival Giants.  The team that (mercifully) ended their season last year on the very same field.  Revenge is sweet and the opportunity for revenge this sets up is tantalizing.  We don’t know yet how good this Cowboys team will be but we will no doubt get the best they have to give, that’s for sure.  Whether it will be enough remains to be seen.

So, we know the Cowboys open against the Giants.  But, we won’t know the rest of the schedule until it is released later in April.  We do however know who the Cowboys’ opponents will be, so let’s take a look at what they are up against.

Last year prior to the beginning of the season, the Cowboys had the 15th hardest schedule in the league with a combined 2010 win-loss record for their opponents of 129-127-0 (.504).  The actual record of these teams in 2011 – a better measure of how strong the schedule actually was in hindsight – was a slightly lower 121-135-0 (.473).  That included a 55-73-0 record (.430) for the teams the Cowboys played at home (Cowboys were 5-3 at home) and a 66-62 record (.516) for the teams they played on the road (Cowboys were 3-5 away).

2012 HOME GAMES

New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, NYG, Philadelphia, Washington

2012 AWAY GAMES

Atlanta, Carolina, Baltimore, Cincinnatti, Seattle, NYG, Philadelphia, Washington

Looking at 2012, the Cowboys opponents were again a combined 129-127-0.  But, their home opponents were a 63-65-0 (.492) and their road opponents were again 66-62-0 (.516).  That means on paper at least the Cowboys have drawn a similar road schedule and a significantly tougher home schedule.  They will definitely need to perform better on the road and have a similar or better home record against tougher opponents.

Getting off to a good start against the Giants will be huge.  Super Bowl huge.

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