Dallas has seven practices (as per Mickey Spagnola at dallascowboys.com) to prepare for the season opener against the New York Giants. The Cowboys lost both of the games played against the Giants last season.
Much has changed from last season, as every team has made significant perceived upgrades to win the Super Bowl this season, but examining the performance of 2011 lends insight into expectations for 2012. Against teams that finished in the top ten in total offense, passing offense, rushing offense, total defense, passing defense, rushing defense, scoring offense, and scoring defense in 2011, the Cowboys finished 3-7, a .300 winning ratio (Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, Philadelphia, New York Giants, New England, New York Jets, and Detroit).
Some of these teams will not finish in the top ten in their respective statistical category in 2012, but for the purpose of this study, the performance of these teams will be forecast to be similar from 2011. Here are the teams Dallas will face in 2012 that finished in the top ten in their respective categories in 2011:
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (1st pass defense, 8th rush defense)
3. Baltimore Ravens (4th pass defense, 2nd rush defense)
7. Cincinnati Bengals (9th pass defense, 10th rush defense)
8. Philadelphia Eagles (10th pass defense)
9. Seattle Seahawks (11th pass defense)
10. Cleveland Browns (2nd pass defense)
5. Chicago Bears (1st pass defense)
6. Atlanta Falcons (4th pass defense, 2nd rush defense)
1. New Orleans Saints (1st pass offense, 6th rush offense)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (9th pass offense, 5th rush offense)
7. Carolina Panthers (3rd rush offense)
8. New York Giants (5th pass offense)
10. Atlanta Falcons (8th pass offense)
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (10th pass offense)
9. Chicago Bears (9th rush offense)
10. Baltimore Ravens (10th rush offense)
2. New Orleans Saints
5. Carolina Panthers
7. Atlanta Falcons
8. Philadelphia Eagles
9. New York Giants
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Baltimore Ravens
5. Cleveland Browns
7. Seattle Seahawks
9. Cincinnati Bengals
10. Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas plays New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cleveland in 2012. The Cowboys have 13 games against teams that ranked in the top ten in the highlighted major categories. With minimal overall improvements, the Cowboys could be expected to win four of those games, finishing with a 4-9 record against tose opponents.
Dallas would still have games against Washington (twice) and Tampa Bay. In 2011, Dallas went 5-1 against teams outside of the top ten in those statistical categories (the sole loss came against Arizona). Even if Dallas sweeps the teams outside of the top ten, the Cowboys would finish 7-9 in 2012.
Examining the schedule in regards to playoff teams from 2011, and forecasting the results to 2012 yields similar results. The Cowboys were 1-4 against playoff teams in 2011, resulting in a winning ratio of .200.
This season, the Cowboys play seven games against teams that made the playoffs in 2011. While teams like Cincinnati and Atlanta may not make the playoffs this season, teams like Seattle, Chicago, and Philadelphia could find their way to the playoffs this season. With a modest improvement, the Cowboys could finish 2-5 against those playoff teams in 2012.
Dallas would need to finish with a winning record in the other nine games in order finish 7-9. The Cowboys went 7-4 against non-playoff teams in 2011, which would translate to 6-3 with a mild improvement in 2012.
Again, the Cowboys would finish but 8-8 in that scenario. With minimal to modest improvement, the Cowboys could still be 8-8 or 7-9 in 2012.
Obviously, the key to the 2012 NFL season for the Cowboys is for Dallas to make a significant improvement over how it performed in 2011. The offense struggled at Oakland, but was adequate in San Diego. The defense looks much improved, despite missing starters like Jason Hatcher, Mike Jenkins, Morris Claiborne, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, and DeMarcus Ware.
An important part of making a significant improvement over last season would include staying healthy. In lieu of the rash of injuries that has stricken this team, perhaps 7-9 is a little optimistic.
Anything over 8-8, however, is a great indicator of how much better this team is in comparison to 2011. Interestingly, Wade inherited a 9-7 team that went 13-3 in his first season, and deteriorated to 1-7 before he was dismissed.
Now, a 9-7 record would be considered an improvement. Way to "fix it".