Time to clean off the specs and try to look closely at what could potentially unfold in front of us this year. I am the forever Cowboy optimist, however after last year, my vision has been blurred due to the chain of unfortunate events that took a surging team with momentum for the future in 2009 and depleted them to their 2010 version. 2011 is a brand new year and we should all remember that hope should never be lost.
It always seems like a reach to do season predictions in the beginning of August. Sure its fun, but not knowing the "field" or yourself makes for a bunch of "loose change". Now being a few hours away from the NFL season kickoff, I feel a little bit better about making my prediction for the Cowboys 2011 Season. I will break the season up into Four Quarters and attach a "Worse Case Scenario" (WCS) to each quarter. [Note; WCS is not going 0-4, I will spare you the drama…] Additionally, "Probable Outcome" (PO) is my calculated (somewhat) prediction for the season. Also for good measure I will throw in a swing game which could alter the Quarter positively or negatively. Furthermore, at the end of the post I have identified 4 key match-ups we must win in order to be serious contenders this year. These are games we cannot afford to lose.
After the jump this season picture should come into focus, well depending on the prescription strength of you rose colored bifocals...
Q1 - @NYJ / @San Fransisco / Washington / Detroit
PO = 3-1
WCS = 2-2
Swing Games - Detroit
In Quarter One of the season it is imperative to start fast. The anti-thesis of Bill Parcells (grinding out, predictable low risk gameplans...) The Cowboys should try a few trick plays and take a few shots down the field. Momentum for a young team is paramount for growth and confidence and I believe JG understand this. We have to attack fast.
The Jets game is the obvious baseline for the season, but the Detroit game is just as dangerous. I posted Detroit as my swing game here. If we Win we could go 3-1, if we lose then we are more than likely sitting .500 after Q1.
I have us beating either the Jets or the Lions but not both. The 49ers should be an obvious win here and the Redskins although being a tough contest, will still be too shaky at the QB position... We need to go 3-1.
Q2 - @New England / St. Louis / @Philadelphia / Seattle
PO = 2-2
WCS = 1-3
Swing Game - @ New England
Quarter Two in my opinion is going to be the toughest Quarter of the Four. We have two excellent teams on the road with the Patriots and Eagles. Also throw in an up and coming high scoring team in the Rams and there is cause for concern... If we slip up here we could easily be 1-3.
The Swing Game comes right after the bye week. We have an extra week to prepare for Tom Brady and Co. Although this is a very tough game in New England, If we win this game we do have a very good chance of going 3-1 in this stretch. This game and the Philly game stand out as being too tough. I think it is hopeful to believe we should be happy with a split here and come out 2-2. Thus putting us 5-3 through two quarters...
Q3 - Buffalo / @Washington / Miami / @Arizona
PO = 3-1
WCS = 2-2
Swing Game - @Washington
Quarter Three should be where we make our run. We "should" be favored in all of the match-ups in Q3.
Now these home match-ups do look to be penciled in on paper as a W, but I fear they are going to be very competitive games. Buffalo has probably had this match-up circled on their calendars for the last 3 year and you know The staff in Miami specifically Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano are looking forward to playing in Jerry World. However, we should win both of those games.
Going to D.C. to play the Redskins is always tough, this is why it is the Swing Game in this quarter. I cannot understate how solid their Defense should be this year against the run. It would be too hopeful here to go 4-0 in this stretch, but it is very conceivable if our offense is running on all cylinders. However, I am not sure this young team has a streak like that in them. So a 3-1 record should suffice, 2-2 would be a wasted opportunity, in my opinion. 8-4 here and looking like a contender despite playing only 4 legitimate Offensive threats (DET, NE, STL, Philly) in all Quarters combined so far. I think our Offense is the reason right now.
Q4 - NYG / @Tampa Bay / Philadelphia / @NYG
PO = 2-2
WCS = 1-3
Swing Game - Philadelphia
It has been quite noted of our recent team history skids in December. If everything goes right, not faltering in December will once again become a very large task at hand. Our schedule is a tough one in Quarter Four. The Giants right now, in my opinion, will be playing for a top draft pick. The road game with them in Week 17 is a must win, but is still a game on the road in NY to end the season. Tampa will probably regress some from last year due to their 2010 ease of schedule, though they are still a solid team and one that should be won if we are indeed going to be a playoff team in 2011.
The Philadelphia game is my Swing Game in Q4, coupled with these previous Quarter outcomes will decide the NFC East. Are we good enough to be the Division champs...? I am not ready to answer that question. But I think it would be okay to sneak out of Q4 with a 2-2 record, thus securing a Wild Card birth and an overall record of 10-6 . This is all I can hope for as of now. If we beat Philadelphia in week 16, it could vault us into serious contention. Our offense is certainly good enough, when stable.
The WCS would leave us with 6 wins. My PO based on nothing but opinion of how the schedule plays out has us with10 wins. Although if we were to go WCS in half of the Quarters our record goes to 8-8. I believe we have 2 extra wins in us. Our schedule is very favorable in weeks 8-13, those games are all relatively winnable games. 8-8 is a dud in my opinion and we really played below our competition. 9-7 I can deal with as on track. But 10-6 just sticks out to me this year as a number not so overzealous as it might look.
This bring us to the Must Wins. Our talent level on this team is high. It is higher than an 8-8 ballclub. We all agree on that I think, just based on the offensive side of the ball. Our defense is really the key to the Must Wins here. If our defense can show up in these games and limit these Offenses then we should have a real shot at making the playoffs. Our Offense I think, can carry us through any skids week 8-13 and in the beginning of the season, but to step up as a playoff team who could make some noise (tempered noise) in the playoffs, these games are Must Win for us. Most importantly the Defense.
Must Wins for a Contender.
Week 4 - Detroit
Week 7 - St. Louis
Week 15 - @ Tampa Bay
Week 16 - Philadelphia (or Split)