Training camp is finally here. Time to get to work. Time to erase another mediocre year and put past us those memories of being on Fed Ex Field last December seeing another year go down the drain. The 2013 season officially begins today. Optimism flourishes and everybody goes back to 0-0. Whether you are a Baltimore Ravens fan, a Kansas City Chiefs or somewhere in the middle, say a Dallas Cowboys fan, you feel invigorated by the hope that this year will be your year.
Admittedly, it is WAY too early to be looking at the schedule and picking out wins here and losses there however it is kind of fun and besides, picking games week to week during the season is almost just as hard so why not? We all know the rut that Dallas is stuck in. Consecutive 8-8 campaigns. No playoff berth in the last three seasons. The restlessness is palpable to the point that Jerry Jones declared a minor state of emergency following the flame out at the end of last year and vowed to make many a change throughout the organization. Can this team finally be set in the right direction and stay there? That is what we will examine as we take a sneak peek at the 2013 schedule and try to determine what is a realistic prognostication for this year’s team.
I personally think it is best to look at any upcoming season and break it down into quarters. Starting with the first quarter, Dallas has two home games and two road games. The first game, even though it is only one game may in fact, set the tone for the entire year. The much hated New York Giants come in to town where they have had all the success in the Cowboys new stadium. It’s also a prime time game, setup for Sunday Night Football on NBC. As previously mentioned, the Giants are 4-0 in the new building however they have won those four games by a total of 16 points. Each game has had its excruciating moments and gut punches. I really believe this game could define this team, even though it is so early. For Dallas to finally beat the Giants at home and exercise that demon would go a long way towards changing the culture this team has experienced. I am going to go out on a limb and say Dallas does just that and starts out 1-0.
The next game is a classic let down game. On the road, in a hostile environment, but against an AFC opponent that doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing. The Cowboys travel to Arrowhead Stadium and visit a familiar opponent in Andy Reid as he leads his new Kansas City Chiefs into battle. Again, previous Cowboys teams would probably come in a lay a gigantic egg and start that familiar path down the 8-8 road. Dallas has not started out a season 2-0 since the 2008 team did so. I feel that this game is a lot tougher than it probably should be but again, the Cowboys find a way to win and come back home 2-0.
Game three sees the new look St. Louis Rams come into town. The Rams are a very trendy pick to be one of those “bad” teams that comes out of nowhere to be good that you see every year. I know it doesn’t mean much here but the last two times St. Louis has travelled to Dallas they left with 35-7 and 34-7 losses. I am sure the game will be much closer but again, I like Dallas to win here as well. The following week Dallas sets off back on the road to visit the San Diego Chargers. This game I will be actually be attending so hopefully this is not a jinx but I really think Dallas is the superior team here and shows it to go 4-0 in the first quarter of the season.
The second quarter starts out with a visit from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Although the Cowboys have won the last two meetings against the elder Manning, I see this being the Cowboys first loss, especially with another hated opponent waiting in week six. RGIII and the Redskins roll into town giving the Cowboys their fourth home game in six weeks. Dallas was embarrassed by the Redskins last year in their Thanksgiving Day contest and you can bet that, coupled with some comments made by Griffin in the off-season will have Dallas ready for revenge. I see Dallas taking this game moving to 5-1. The next opponent is another divisional matchup, this time against the Eagles in Philadelphia. The Eagles are a huge wild card. Were they really as bad as last year’s team or was that a fluke? Will Chip Kelly’s style work in the NFL? Which one of their three QB’s will be leading this team? Too many variables on that side of the fence have me leaning towards Dallas winning and going a surprising 6-1. The following game is another road game, this time against the Detroit Lions. I think this is the perfect spot to see Dallas let down a bit and get beat, dropping them to 2-2 on the quarter and 6-2 on the season.
Quarter three of the NFL season has the Cowboys back home to face the Vikings. This game will feature two Oklahoma University RB’s going head-to-head as Adrian Peterson comes in to DeMarco Murray’s home. No doubt Peterson is the best in the business but I don’t fear Minnesota’s passing attack at all and see Dallas back in the winner’s circle to go to 7-2. The following week sends Dallas back out on the road to face the New Orleans Saints and ex-defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. While this game will be less about what he does and more about what Drew Brees can do, I don’t think Dallas wins this game and falls to 7-3 heading into their bye week. Once the week eleven bye is completed, Dallas sets out again on the road to visit the Giants for the last time this season. While Dallas will have extra time to prepare, I don’t feel like they win this game either. Now losing twice in a row for the first time all season and with little time to prepare, Dallas hosts the Oakland Raiders for their annual Thanksgiving Day game. Thankfully, the Raiders are just what the doctor ordered for Dallas as they finish quarter three on a good note and head into their final four games at 8-4.
The old Dallas bugaboo of finishing seasons starts out on a positive in Week 14 as the Cowboys visit Soldier Field and the Bears in their only Monday Night Football game of the year. After last year’s hideous loss to Chicago, Dallas exacts a measure of revenge and beats Chicago to move to 9-4. Here is where I feel the drama and adversity really kick in for the Cowboys. The next two games are at home versus a Green Bay Packers team I feel could be a Super Bowl contender and a road game against the Redskins. I can see Dallas experiencing their first losing streak of the year here, dropping both of these games and falling to 9-6 on the year. This could even set up a third edition of “Win and In” against a divisional opponent. This time however, the opponent will likely not be playing for the same stakes as the Eagles come in to town. I believe the Cowboys sweep the Eagles and move to 10-6 on the season, securing their first playoff berth and divisional championship since 2009.
Is this realistic? Can Dallas finally do better than 8-8? Only time will tell. If Dallas can stay healthy and answer some of their lingering questions regarding offensive line and secondary play, 10-6 is surely not out of the realm of possibility, regardless of who they beat and when they beat them.