Here is a fairly plausible path for the Cowboys into the playoffs with a 10-6 record as the NFC East champs. While this may seem ridiculously premature in light of potential training camp and preseason injuries, one thing is certain: the path to a division crown may be brutal, but it's also tough for our division rivals.
The Redskins NFC East title last year earned them dates with the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons. The Eagles face the Arizona Cardinals again -- the same defense that manhandled their depleted offensive line last year and will give them a big test up front once again.
The New York Giants appear to have the easiest path to the playoffs besides Dallas, though I wouldn't call it easy as secondary and linebacker could again be issues for them. However, I expect by year's end the Giants young safeties behind Antrel Rolle will be playing very well.
While I believe the Skins defense will actually be better this year and more than compensate for opposing teams figuring out the zone read, it's possible for the Skins to win one less game than last year despite being a better team overall.
As for us, I haven't decided who we will face in the wild card round of the playoffs, I need to take a good look at the Packers, Falcons, Seahawks, Saints, Vikings and Bears schedules to round out the NFC playoff contenders. That's a separate
post all of its own series of posts!
DALLAS - 10-6 NFC East Division Champs 2013
-p = 2012 playoff team
Season summary: Jason Garrett finally gets over the 8-8 hump and into the playoffs as a head coach. Most of Dallas' improvement is driven not by the rookies but 2nd year guys like Ronald Leary at guard, Matt Johnson at safety, James Hanna opposite Witten at TE, and Tyrone Crawford at DE
I think Jeremy Parnell grabs the starting RT job for his superior run blocking in training camp while Doug Free plays swing tackle. Gavin Escobar starts to come on in the red zone down the stretch.
Dallas doesn't need a spectacular running game, they just need to be average to see a strong improvement over 2012 in red zone efficiency. More turnovers on D should also help get the scoring started earlier after a 2012 offense that constantly forced Romo to play catch up and demanded 4th quarter heroics. Short fields combined with better blocking and big targets in the red zone means more points in the first half instead of all that catching up like last year.
Week Date Opponent Outcome Record
1 09/08 SUN* NYG W 30 - 24 1-0
I think Dallas is sick of losing to the Giants whenever they come to town. We'll be stoked for this game just like last year. The Giants lose at Cowboys Stadium for the first time since the building opened in 2009.
2 09/15 SUN @KC W 20 - 16 2-0
The Chiefs offense doesn't scare me, but they have the secondary/linebackers to actually match up well with our receivers and tight ends. They have enough talented corners to stick a bigger corner on Witten in a kind of 3 safety look, not unlike what the Seahawks did to us in September 2012. This comes down to us forcing Alex Smith into a turnover. Getting Murray/Dunbar going to the edge as the Chiefs are very stout in the middle would help in this one.
3 09/22 SUN STL W 23 - 16 3-0
The Rams D is coming to play early on. I think Romo figures out their Tampa 2 in the 2nd half when we get the running game going against them with a (hopefully healthy) Demarco Murray. If the Rams played in a weaker division they might have an outside playoff shot this year but they're in the brutal NFC West so maybe next year when more Seagulls get suspended for PEDs.
4 09/29 SUN @SD W 31 - 23 4-0
The Chargers seem to be the likeliest candidate to stink up the AFC, what with the injuries to Melvin Ingram and what looks like a very suspect offensive line (I think D.J. Fluker gets moved inside to guard by mid-season).
They still have a solid enough secondary and 3-4 D-Line to pressure Romo early...but not enough protection for Phillip Rivers to take this one.
5 10/06 SUN DEN-p L 34 - 27 4-1
The Broncos may be Super Bowl bound this year with the addition of Wes Welker and their stout defense. Romo will give Peyton Manning a good game as he has throughout his career.
6 10/13 SUN* WAS-p L 24 - 20 4-2
Now that it looks like RG3 will return, I suspect the Skins could have our number. However the zone read isn't going to work as well as last year when facing Kiffin/Marinelli's 5-2 look and whatever the Giants and Eagles have planned to stop it.
The problem for Romo will be pressure from Brian Orakpo and company combined with the Skins big corners pressing Dez Bryant like the Seahawks did last year. The good news is the Skins safeties are inexperienced so we might be able to exploit that with play action if the Skins don't completely shut down our running game.
7 10/20 SUN @PHI W 24 - 23 5-2
Chip Kelly will give us a scare in his debut against Dallas in front of a rabid Philly home crowd but I think Vick gets strip sacked by Anthony Spencer who has been lights out in his last few starts against the Eagles. Dallas wins on late field goal.
8 10/27 SUN @DET W 34 - 24 6-2
The Lions look like a team poised to take a big step back this year thanks to a lack of depth and quality starters along their offensive line (Phil Costa as trade bait, anyone?) and a very suspect secondary. Off the field problems could continue to be a distraction in Detroit and I think we match up way better against Megatron with Carr and Claiborne than we did with Newman and Jenkins in 2011.
9 11/03 SUN MIN-p L 23 - 17 6-3
I think Leslie Frazier's D is one of the ones most likely to give us fits and this is a team that has had our number since the 2010 playoff loss at Minnesota. Unlike last year the Vikes now have plenty of weapons on offense for QB Christian Ponder, while their D boasts a formidable D-line and fierce secondary.
10 11/10 SUN* @NO W 30 - 27 7-3
A lot of BTBers have this penciled in as a loss. I don't see us losing to the Saints though as their D remains a sieve. If anyone can exploit Rob Ryan's looks, it would be Jason Garrett and Tony Romo. The problem is going to be getting enough pressure on Drew Brees. But with a healthy Ware and Spencer I think we can bring back memories of the Boys' 2009 victory in New Orleans. The one downside for Brees entering this season is the Saints situation at tackle.
11 11/17 BYE
I'm very glad the Boys are getting a late bye this year to rest up Ware and Spencer for our playoff push instead of the usual Week 4 or 5 bye the league gives us. Health is crucial to getting some late season Ws instead of the usual December swoon.
12 11/24 SUN @NYG L 27 - 23 7-4
Tom Coughlin's teams tend to play their best football after playing poorly earlier in the year. They'll also be desperate to stay in the playoff hunt as both Dallas and Washington could be ahead of them. Desperation might drive JPP and co to show up tough after a subpar pass rushing season. The Giants corners should also play better in this one than they did in the season opener at Dallas.
13 11/28 THU OAK W 38 - 24 8-4
Probably the most likely win of the year unless Oakland stuns everyone by pushing for a wild card spot. The AFC West looks pretty weak behind the Broncos this year, even though Andy Reid should have the Chiefs playing well by the end of the year. The Cowboys get to say hello to our old friend Mike Jenkins as Dez burns him for two TDs including a beautiful back shoulder fade in the endzone.
14 12/09 MON* @CHI W 24 - 20 9-4
This is a revenge game for Dallas as the Bears humiliated us at home last year. While Chicago in December promises cold and rainy conditions we have a secret weapon this time -- Rod Marinelli's knowledge of the Bears Cover 2 and Cover 3 coverage schemes. This time Romo exposes the Bears weakness - their overmatched rookie linebackers -- by targeting Witten, Hanna and throwing a strike to Gavin Escobar in the end zone.
This game will probably come down to turnovers but I don't see Romo throwing as many INTs as last year while Jay Cutler gets far more pressure than he faced from us last October. I really like the Boys ability with Carr and Claiborne to slow Brandon Marshall down and force Cutler into his other reads in a (hopefully) collapsing pocket. Cutler has wheels but he tends to throw picks when under pressure.
15 12/15 SUN GB-p L 34 - 30 9-5
Get your popcorn ready for an epic QB duel between Rodgers and Romo. I think the Packers get a late INT to seal this one but only after Romo torches their secondary for three quarters. If the Boys go 11-5 for the first time since 2009 this would be a game to 'steal' and prove to the NFL the Cowboys are a serious contender again.
16 12/22 SUN WAS-p L 31-30 OT 9-6
After getting beat up by the 49ers and Giants Mike Shanahan forces a hobbled RG3 onto the field for this one with the NFC East on the line. The Skins pull out the win but only by the skin of their teeth on a field goal in OT. Without RG3 the following week they lose to the Giants who badly want to grab the final wild card spot at 9-7 and seize a 'best NFC record' tie breaker over Washington.
17 12/29 SUN PHI W 27-20 #10-6
By this point Chip Kelly is probably starting Matt Barkley with G.J. Kinne being groomed as his backup, and Nick Foles is rumored to be on the trading block to Cleveland. Barkley gets sacked early and often in Dallas as the Cowboys hold off a late rally to clinch the NFC East title with a Redskins loss at New York.
Season summary: The Skins defense should be better without Deangelo Hall, but RG3 takes too much punishment down the stretch - AGAIN.
I think Shanahan's zone read offense finally gets figured out by opposing D coordinators, though it's very difficult to stop cold and RG3 is already a better pocket passer than Michael Vick. Much depends on how much punishment Griffin takes turning plays inside when Ds present him with 5 man fronts and dare him to throw against 2 linebacker, 3 safety looks.
If you're a Redskins fan however you have to like this defense with the return of Brian Orakpo and other key starters -- despite an apparent weakness with two rookies at safety.
1 09/09 MON* PHI W 31 - 26 1-0 Zone read vs. zone read should be fun
2 09/15 SUN @GB-p L 34 - 20 1-1 Don't see Skins upsetting the Packers
3 09/22 SUN DET W 30 - 27 2-1 Skins pick off Stafford to take the win
4 09/29 SUN @OAK W 38 - 23 3-1 Raiders are a gift to all NFC East teams
5 10/05 BYE
6 10/13 SUN @DAL W 24 - 20 4-1 RG3 and Romo both sacked often
7 10/20 SUN CHI L 20 - 16 4-2 Bears first team to beat up RG3
8 10/27 SUN @DEN L 23 - 13 4-3 Broncos continue to pummel RG3
9 11/03 SUN SD W 33 - 20 5-3 Kirk Cousins leads Skins over Chargers
10 11/07 THU @MIN-p W 20 - 17 6-3 Vikes are going to bring the pressure
11 11/17 SUN @PHI W 23 - 20 7-4 Skins should sweep the Eagles
12 11/25 MON* SF L 34 - 23 7-5 Niners hit RG3 early and often
13 12/01 SUN* NYG W 30 - 26 7-5 Skins upset the Giants on RG3 heroics 14 12/08 SUN KC W 24 - 23 8-5 Skins D sacks Alex Smith often, RG3 hurt
15 12/15 SUN ATL-p L 29-17 8-6 Falcons cruise past RG3-less Skins
16 12/15 SUN DAL W 31-30 OT 9-6 RG3 returns to beat Dallas but Pyrrhic win
17 12/22 SUN NYG L 33 - 27 9-7 Gmen get their revenge at Meadowlands
NEW YORK GIANTS 9-7
Season summary: The Giants could have their third straight 9-7 season and miss the playoffs for the second consecutive year due to weaknesses at LB and the slow motion rebuild along their offensive line.
At least by the end of 2013 Giants fans should be optimistic about the progress of their young safeties and 'yuglies' up front. All the Giants will need to contend again in 2014 will be a stud corner and (possibly?) a successor to Justin Tuck at defensive end in the first two rounds of the draft with LBs and interior OL/DL depth in the mid-rounds. With Pugh and Brewer the Giants have plenty of reasons for long term optimism and ability get some push at left and right tackle, respectively.
Bottom line: if the GMen want to keep both Nicks and Cruz (and it seems like they're preparing to lose at least one of the dynamic duo in 2014, perhaps to Jacksonville or some other team with lots of cap room) they'll likely restructure Eli's contract and require young, cheap talent at many other positions.
1 09/08 SUN* @DAL L 30 - 24 0-1 Dez, TEs expose Giants LBs and corners
2 09/15 SUN DEN-p L 31 - 27 0-2 The Manning Bowl goes to Peyton
3 09/22 SUN @CAR W 34 - 16 1-2 Giants cruise past Kitties again
4 09/29 SUN @KC W 27 - 17 2-2 Eli rallies Giants from behind at KC
5 10/06 SUN PHI L 30 - 27 OT 2-3 One weird Giants loss to Vick and co.
6 10/10 THU @CHI L 34 - 32 2-4 GMen can't stop Marshall or Forte
7 10/21 MON MIN W 27 - 17 3-4 Giants sack Ponder often and beat Vikes
8 10/27 SUN @PHI W 38 - 24 4-4 Giant beat down for Eagles as they fade
9 11/03 BYE
10 11/10 SUN* OAK W 35 - 17 5-4 Giants get another quasi-blowout
11 11/17 SUN GB L 37 - 30 5-5 Eli loses another shootout with Rodgers
12 11/24 SUN DAL W 27 - 23 6-5 Giants get revenge at home against Boys
13 12/01 SUN* @WAS L 30 - 26 6-6 RG3 lights up Big Blue corners
14 12/08 SUN @SD W 25 - 13 7-6 Chargers already looking to 14' draft
15 12/15 SUN SEA L 27 - 20 7-7 Seahawks pressure too much for Eli
16 12/22 SUN @DET W 36 - 20 8-7 Eli smokes Lions putrid secondary
17 12/29 SUN WAS W 33 - 27 9-7 Giants earn NFC record tiebreaker over Skins
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 7-9
Season summary: Chip Kelly and the free agent acquistions will improve this team, but defensive holes and QB confusion sink the Eagles playoff hopes while a decisions loom on cutting Vick and extending WR Jeremy Maclin and other parts of the young, talented core.
1 09/09 MON* @WAS L 31 - 26 0-1 Skins more talented at this point on D
2 09/15 SUN SD W 27 - 24 1-1 Chargers look headed for a top 5 pick
3 09/22 SUN KC W 20 - 19 2-1 The Andy Reid returns bowl
4 09/29 SUN @DEN L 27 - 16 2-2 Broncos probably sweep NFC East
5 10/06 SUN @NYG W 30 - 27 OT 3-2 Vick has his best game of season
6 10/13 SUN @TB W 23 - 20 4-2 Bucs have their own QB issues
7 10/20 SUN DAL L 24 - 23 4-3 Romo escapes Philly with the win
8 10/27 SUN NYG L 38 - 24 4-4 Giants overwhelm Eagles secondary
9 11/03 SUN @OAK W 28-17 5-4 At least Eagles are better than Raiders 10 11/10 SUN* @GB L 31 - 23 5-5 Packers light up middle of Eagles D
11 11/17 SUN WAS L 23 - 20 5-6 Despite great D effort Eagles lose
12 11/24 BYE
13 12/01 SUN* ARI L 24 - 13 5-7 This D dominated Eagles OL last year
14 12/08 SUN DET W 30 - 23 6-7 Lions going nowhere fast by this point
15 12/15 SUN @MIN W 20-17 7-7 Eagles get their last upset of the season
16 12/22 SUN CHI L 30 - 20 7-8 Bears welcome Barkley to the NFL
17 12/29 SUN @DAL L 27 - 20 7-9 Eagles fans have hope for 2014
In my next three posts, I'll try to look at the playoff picture featuring Dallas' NFC rivals, including the Bears, Saints, Falcons, Packers, 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks. But for now I have the division winners and wild cards as follows:
NFC East: Dallas 10-6 (have to play in wild card round)
runners up NY Giants 9-7, Washington 9-7
NFC North Green Bay 11-5 (lose last game of season to Bears who sneak into playoffs)
Wild Card 2 Chicago 10-6
Vikings finish 9-7
NFC South Atlanta 12-4 First round bye
Saints finish 8-8
NFC West San Francisco 13-3 homefield advantage throughout playoffs
Wild Card 1 Seattle 10-6
Arizona finishes 9-7
NFC teams poised for brutal schedule beat downs/bad seasons: Detroit, Tampa Bay, Carolina, St. Louis