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Now the Real Season Begins

Week one has come and gone, and if we're smart, we'll forget about it. Really, the win over the Chargers was great, but does it really tell us how this week's game(s) will go? Consider these four lines:

1994: week one: Dallas 26, Pittsburgh 9; week two: Dallas 20, Houston 17;
1995: week one: Dallas 35, New York 0; week two: Dallas 31, Denver 21;
1996: week one: Chicago 22, Dallas 6; week two: Dallas 27, New York 0;
1997: week one: Dallas 37, Pittsburgh 7; week two: Arizona 25, Dallas 22;

In none of those cases did the week one performance serve as a predictor for week two. In three cases Dallas won blowout openers. In two of these cases, they won close games the following week. In the last case, they lost. The one time the Cowboys suffered a humiliating defeat they bounced back with a blowout of their own.

This week will be different, for the Cowboys and the rest of the league. Teams had months to prepare for the opening games. Now, they will have a few days. And now, for the first time since last year, teams will have a true assessment of their respective strengths and weaknesses. Now is when we will learn which coaching staffs are up to it. Can they paper over the hole in their offensive line? Disguise a weakness in the secondary? Can they spot and exploit a weakness in another team the rest of us still can't see?

A case study for this final point is the '97 Cowboys. They blew out the Steelers in Pittsburgh opening day. They raced out to an early lead the next week against the Cardinals and it appeared that the fallout from '96, the Michael Irvin suspension, the Leon Lett suspension and the false charge against Erik Williams were behind them. But midway through the second quarter, the Cardinals began to blitz the Cowboys up the middle. They quickly found out that new center Clay Shiver could not handle pressure directly in his face. They blitzed relentlessly the rest of the way and got a win. In the process they exposed a weakness that would plague Dallas the rest of the year.

This year's team has some problems of its own. The coverage teams have been awful all summer and were even worse against the Chargers. Can the holes be patched in a week? Will Rob Petitti and the rest of the offensive line be able to manage whatever new blitzes Redskins DC Gregg Williams has in store for them? On the other side of the ball, can Dallas match the pressure that Chicago threw at the Washington QBs?

Nobody knows. I feel Dallas will win this Monday night because I think it has more talent. But I'm going to resist the temptation to say that a Dallas win over a good Chargers team plus a narrow Washington win over a bad Bears team equals a Cowboys bonanza.

Seeing a sluggish 14 -10 taffy pull of a win would not surprise me at all. In fact, nothing would surprise me. We're about to learn who is really good and really bad -- for the first time.

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