Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The football gods seemed to have smiled on the Cowboys last Thursday night when the 2013 NFL regular season schedule was released. There was much rejoicing among the fan base as at first glance there was a lot to like about the way this year’s regular season will unfold. And, the NFL played up the hype to the maximum with a long, drawn out schedule release extravaganza that included some predictions about wins and losses and projected final records. What quickly followed was a multitude of actual experts and self-proclaimed experts chiming in about strength of schedule, key match ups, and their own projections with some already going as far as including Super Bowl predictions. (For the record, the majority of the NFL.com team picked the 49ers as Super Bowl winners. Let’s remember that.)
First of all, in my opinion, the schedule is an important piece of information and it may be entertaining but it is FAR too early to start making any meaningful predictions. Knowing the schedule puts us one step closer to ending the long, empty off season and gets us closer to living each week for Sunday’s game (or Monday or Thursday) and then celebrating or agonizing the results for another week (or two in the case of the bye week).
In this era of wild west free agency, any talk of strength of schedule is kind of pointless. Between coaching and personnel changes alone, many teams already don’t bear any resemblance to the team they were at the end of 2012. To determine how worthy of an opponent they will be in 2013 based solely on their record last year is a stretch at any time, but prior to the draft it is even more so. Teams’ rosters will look much different at the end of August than they do today. Not even Darelle Revis is immune to changes as we found out Sunday. And, don’t forget that teams can and do make dramatic turnarounds – look no further than the 5-11 Washington Redskins in 2011. Everyone knew RGIII was a huge talent, but no one knew he would have the immediate impact he did. Washington probably looked like a ‘W’ on a lot of teams’ schedules this time last year, but the last 7 teams they played found out that they dramatically improved as the season went on. There will be other teams that surprise us in 2013 too.
So, with that disclaimer, let’s take a look at what I consider the pros and cons of this year’s schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.
1. The Cowboys open the season at home for the first time since 2007. Fans will recall that they opened the season that year against none other than the New York Giants – their 2013 opponent and proceeded to sweep both regular season games with the Giants, finish 13-3, and clinch the #1 seed in the playoffs (before disaster struck). That certainly feels like a good omen but I’ll discuss why that could just as easily be considered a “con” below.
2. After losing “win or go home” games two years in a row at New York in 2011 and at Washington in 2012, the Cowboys will of course face the Eagles in 2013 but will close the season at home instead of having to travel to cold, hostile territory. Let’s hope it is just a meaningless game this year with the Cowboys already clinching a playoff berth, but if not, it will no doubt be better to have that game at home in Cowboys Stadium.
3. The Cowboys bye week is week 11 and it comes between two tough away games at New Orleans and then at the Giants. I’m not a big fan of early bye weeks – like 2012 when it was in week 5. The NFL season is a grind. The bye week is a welcome week off for players to recharge and injured players to rehab nagging injuries. With the Cowboys’ well documented late-season struggles and the rash of injuries they suffered last year, the late bye week is a definite advantage. They will get a chance to pause and catch their breath before they head into the always treacherous December games. But, the Giants and Eagles also have late bye weeks (NY week 9, Philadelphia week 12) so they will see the same potential benefits. The Redskins get the week 5 bye this year but in a year where RGIII may miss some early games and be rounding into form early in the season, this probably works in their favor.
4. Because the Cowboys get their annual Thanksgiving Day game on a Thursday and then don’t play again until the following week’s Monday night game, they are almost getting a second mini-bye week. They have to play two games in 5 days but that is an annual thing for this team. Following the game against the Raiders, they get 11 days off before they face the Bears on Monday, December 9th. That is only 3 days short of the rest they get during their actual bye week.
5. The Cowboys only play on the road two consecutive weeks once the entire year – against the Eagles week 7 and the Lions week 8 – and only 2 of the first 6 games are away. For comparison, last season they played the first two games and 4 of the first 6 on the road. In 2011, they also played the first two games of the season and 3 of the first 5 on the road. In the NFL, it is important to get out of the gates fast. It will be even more important for a team with a fragile psyche like the Cowboys. The schedule doesn’t guarantee they will, but it improves the odds.
1. The Cowboys open against the Giants. The Giants will be looking to avenge last season’s home opener loss at their house. No one needs to remind Cowboys fans that Eli Manning has never lost in Jerry World. The season isn’t over if they lose – it is just another game out of 16 – but it will certainly dampen everyone’s enthusiasm and increase the pressure on winning at least 10 of the remaining 15 games.
2. I’d much rather play in Cowboys Stadium than on the road, but the House That Jerry Built has yet to be much of an advantage. The Cowboys are only 18-15 since it opened for the 2009 season, 11-9 in home games with Jason Garrett as head coach. Nothing like a billion dollar monument to mediocrity…the team will have to break that streak this season to be relevant, but the schedule makers have given them every opportunity to try.
3. As a result of our 3rd place finish in the NFC East, we are the only team in the division that has to play the Saints – and the game will be in the Superdome. There is no more dangerous team in the NFC in my opinion as they will have a giant chip on their shoulder the entire season as a result of “bounty gate”. They are not necessarily the dominant team they once were but they have enough talent to still be dangerous. We also play an improving Rams team that managed to beat and tie the 49ers last season. They won’t be a pushover either. The division winning Redskins have to face both the 49ers and the Falcons this season – two playoff teams that will likely only be better. The Giants get the Panthers and the Seahawks who now have Percy Harvin to add to the rest of their arsenal. The last place Eagles get Tampa Bay (now with Revis) and Arizona.
4. The NFC East is matched up against the NFC North and the AFC West this year but the Cowboys have to travel to Chicago in December and have to play what should be a much improved Kansas City team now led by Andy Reid for their home opener. Despite endless years of disappointment, the Chiefs fan base is rabid and will be filled with optimism. Expect the stadium to be overflowing and loud in an already tough environment. If the Cowboys get out of there with a win, it will be well earned.
5. December is once again a murderous run with games at Chicago and at Washington and home games against the Packers and the season finale against the Eagles. Not a single push over for this team and the success or failure of this team will once again depend on December’s performance. Let’s hope Romo can banish the December curse once and for all.
So, there you have it. This is the most beneficial schedule the team has seen in 5 or 6 seasons. I’m not going to try and predict the outcome of every game here but will summarize by saying that the team in my opinion will have to find a way to win 10 games to make the playoffs. Any 10 will do. This is the best chance the team has had in quite a while to not only make the playoffs but be a serious contender. It remains to be seen if Jason Garrett and his new coaching staff can deliver. If they don’t, it won’t be because the schedule wasn’t favorable. Go Cowboys!