In part uno I gave a Cowboys 'fan's eye view' of our upcoming regular season opponents and how they played in Week 1. Given the long layoff of ten days between our Wednesday night opener and Sunday's match up in Seattle, I wasn't the only one looking around the league as ScarletO had a very good FanPost evaluating the rest of the league out of the gate, and VAfan looked at which NFC teams that made it into the tournament last year are unlikely to reach the playoffs in 2012-13 (my personal picks to stay home are the Saints and Lions).
Although I don't have access to the 22 coaches film which is steadily improving the FanPosts and main posts alike with more objective, play by play analysis of schemes, I hope to add value in my own minor area of expertise -- our Week 4 NFC opponent, the Chicago Bears. I plan to post a two-parter right after Week 3's home game against a rising Tampa Bay defense (the Bucs look better on D, but lucky for us, like the Seahawks their offense remains a mess). The key test for the Bears will be how they handle Aaron Rodgers' mobility and the Packers passing attack tomorrow night (in week 3 they get the Rams before coming to Cowboys Stadium for a Monday Night Football tilt).
Now in part 2 I look at the match ups I didn't cover in part 1, including the Week 15 opponent the Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver, the Week 6 opponent Baltimore Ravens beat down of Week 14 opponent Cincinnati and Week 16 rival the New Orleans Saints loss to the rising Washington Redskins.
WEEK 14 CINCINNATI @ WEEK 6 BALTIMORE
The Ravens came out and looked like the Super Bowl contenders they were last season in a 41-14 rout, even with the loss of Ben Grubbs along their offensive line in free agency this off season. I had Baltimore pegged as our toughest opponent of the season (division games included) whent the schedule came out and that assessment hasn't changed. It also felt good after watching the highlights of Week 1's games (although I only watched Dallas@NYG and Indy@Chicago) that my assessment of the league's top tier at the end of preseason was largely correct, though I may have understimated how much the weakest links of the Packers (running game/secondary) and Steelers (offensive line) could be exposed by solid game planning. The biggest improvement for the Ravens has undoubtedly been with the play of QB Joe Flacco who was only completing 50% of his passes for numerous game last year.
The Giants are getting Prince Amukamara back to their secondary so they may not be as vulnerable as they looked in Week 1 going forward. They have two very winnable games versus Tampa Bay and Carolina before a Week 4 showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. But there's no question that Baltimore, a team we've never beaten at home is the most likely first loss of the Cowboys season, even including the Chicago Bears game in Arlington (the Bears secondary will likely look a lot more vulnerable against Rodgers than it did against Luck).
On the other side of the ball, Bengals QB Andy Dalton looks like he misses deep threat Jerome Simpson and the Bengals got behind very early and gave up a lot of turnovers trying to come back. I see Cincy with another top 15 pick in next year's draft as their defense put up a very disappointing effort despite keeping the Ravens' primary deep threat Torrey Smith out of the end zone. Even if the weather is nasty the Boys should win by at least ten points at Cincy in early December.
WEEK 15 PITTSBURGH @ DENVER
Although it seems premature to say this, I thought Denver showed that they deserve to be in the conversation for Super Bowl contention with Peyton Manning at quarterback in a 31-19 Mile High win. The ugliest moment for the Steelers came at the end when Ben Roethlisberger tossed a pick six and their receivers could not get off press coverage quickly enough to avoid three consecutive Broncos sacks of Big Ben.
Steelers rookie RT Mike Adams formerly of the Buckeye U looked overmatched and a unit that has been stocked with lots of high draft picks in recent years couldn't run the football enough to make Roethlisberger comfortable in the pocket. I had Pittsburgh as a team that would continue a December swoon for the Boys (the kind that was only avoided in 09') but the Steelers look vulnerable.
ScarletO made a good point in his Week 1 NFL overview FanPost that very few teams appear to have elite offensive lines, thanks to salary cap logic dictating that the dollars flow to tackles while guards often get undervalued. Despite a bevy of picks Green Bay's o-line looked overmatched against a very good San Francisco 49ers D, while the Niners ran the ball right at the Packers all day long. Similarly, it would appear Roethlisberger and his highly talented receivers and backs will be struggling with an o-line exposed on tape all year long. I see Tony Romo getting his first win against Pittsburgh in Week 15 at Cowboys Stadium -- while we may very well lose in Week 17 at Washington, especially if we have nothing left to play for while its the Redskins' Super Bowl.
WEEK 16 NEW ORLEANS vs. WASHINGTON (WEEKS 12 and 17)
I saved this game for last as it's been the hardest to evaluate. Is Robert Griffin III headed for a Cam Newton-esque rookie campaign where he and a previously weakest link Redskins offensive line set the NFC East on fire? Or was RG3 simply playing in a short/deep read/bootleg offense that Vince Young used to run at Texas against a Saints defense that was both demoralized and discombobulated before the first snap? The example of Newton struggling against a Bucs D that had plenty of tape on him and a full offseason to prepare suggests that this year's rookie quarterbacks won't likely put up the numbers that last year's rookie class did thanks to the NFL lockout.
Regardless of how bad the Saints were on D -- and they've always been suspect on defense their since winning the Super Bowl -- you have to be spooked as a Cowboys fan about a Skins defense that shut us out of the end zone in the first game last year. And it was that unit that really impressed against Drew Brees and the Saints league leading passing attack, holding Brees to a comeback that fell short. In a week where our longtime rivals the Giants and Eagles both looked very mortal, the Redskins appear good enough now that Rex Grossman is holding a clip board to make both games live up to legacy of the bitter Redskins-Cowboys rivalry.
For now I prefer to focus on the good news for Cowboys fans. I had us losing to the Saints in my 11-5 season projection, but now I'm not so sure. Unless they really get their act together on defense I think we have the offensive firepower and enough pass rush to beat them at Cowboys Stadium in December. Our corners and safeties are still better than the Redskins secondary that gave up 32 points on Sunday, though the final score of 40-32 suggests a much closer game than it was.
A sweep of the Giants with a mid-season home victory now looks possible -- after all we've never beaten Eli at Cowboys Stadium and that should be plenty of motivation. A split with the vulnerable Eagles seems within reach. But I expect the resurgent Redskins to hand us a loss in week 17 if not on Thanksgiving Day with the whole country watching.