The schedule makers have given Dallas a few breaks this season. Perhaps the greatest gift given to the Cowboys is that the Eagles will come off of road Monday Night Football games (@ NO on Nov 5th, and @ CAR Nov 26th) before facing Dallas.
Last season, Dallas suffered its worse loss with Philadelphia coming off of a bye week. In 2012, the Eagles will be coming off of short weeks (and road games) before playing the Cowboys. Timing is everything.
The Cowboys only have two games where their opponents will be coming off the bye: at the Panthers (October 21st) and hosting the Browns (November 18th). Dallas, however, will have extra time to prepare for the game at Seattle (Week 2, September 16th), the game at Baltimore (Week 6, October 14th), and when hosting Philadelphia (Week 13, December 2nd). Dallas has long weeks after playing the opener at New York on September 5th, and after playing at home on Thanksgiving. Dallas has their bye week over the weekend of October 5th (week 5).
The only real potential for games where weather could be a factor will be at Cincinnati on December 9th, and the last game of the season at Washington on December 30th. The Bengals will have a short week after the game, having to play at Philadelphia on the upcoming Thursday. Washington, on the other hand, will start another offseason after the game...
Unlike last season, the NFL did not listen to Troy Aikman this year, and plays a home game against Cleveland before hosting the annual Thanksgiving game. This year, the Redskins will play the second Thanksgiving Day game at Cowboys Stadium (on Fox: thank goodness nobody has to be exposed to another game with Phil Simms announcing).
The Cowboys do not play their home opener until September 23rd. Dallas has six road games out of the first nine games this season. Conversely, the Cowboys finish the season with five out of the seven games at home. The only two road games after playing at Philadelphia in week 10 (November 11th) are in December (at Cincinnati and at Washington as mentioned above).
Dallas has seven of the first nine games against teams that had at least a .500 wining ratio. The only road game against a team without at least 8 wins last season in the first half of the 2012 season, is against the Panthers, who are coming off a bye. Tampa Bay is the only other team that Dallas plays that had less than 8 wins last season, in the first ten weeks of the 2012 season.
The first 10 weeks of the season will either forge a tough Cowboys team, or eliminate this edition of the Cowboys from playoff contention early on: like in 2010. If Dallas can find a way to be at least 4-5 after the game @ Philadelphia on week 10, Dallas will have a chance to make the playoffs.
But having at least 4 wins by the tenth week of the season does not ensure the Cowboys of making a post season appearance. Dallas still has to face three playoff teams from 2011 down the stretch (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans) in consecutive weeks: from December 9th to December 23rd.
All in all, it looks like a schedule that Dallas can navigate. My early returns, however, have Dallas at 7-9:
Win @ NYG
Loss @ SEA
Loss CHI (MNF)
Loss @ BAL
Win @ CAR
Loss @ ATL (SNF)
Loss @ PHI
Win WAS (Thanksgiving)
Win PHI (SNF)
Loss @ CIN
Loss @ WAS