With the offseason minicamp officially in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward as far as the Dallas Cowboys are concerned. This season is one built around supremely high expectations, and it’s going to be interesting to see how much America’s Team can live up to them.
There are a lot of ebbs and flows to an NFL season. You’ve got a hodgepodge of hype, disappointment, thrills, statements, proclamations, letdowns, game-winners, and a occasionally a quarterback situation that defines perhaps the most storied franchise in the game’s history. Standard stuff.
When thinking about the season we imagine various scenarios, but they depend on the most important thing in sports - winning. We want the Cowboys to win (shocker I know) and we want them to win all the time.
While winning is who we hope to be, the truth of an NFL season is something Mrs. Gump called long ago. We have no idea what we’re going to get, but there’s usually a time of year where we can sort of figure it out.
There are two foundational games to an NFL season in my mind, like the first and final episodes of a television season; however, in football there are litmus test games and statement games.
The litmus test is what the name implies. This is the game when you find out who you are, what you are, and what you can conceivably do throughout the rest of the season. The statement game (which I’ll be writing about later this week, sorry for the spoiler alert!) is the moment when you slay the dragon and proclaim to the world that you’re here to stay.
What’s the litmus test for the Cowboys this season? I’m glad you asked. For those that need a refresher, here’s the 2017 Dallas Cowboys schedule:
Week 1 (Sun Sept 10th): Giants @ Cowboys 8:30 PM ET NBC
Week 2 (Sun Sept 17th): Cowboys @ Broncos 4:25 PM ET FOX
Week 3 (Mon Sept 25th): Cowboys @ Cardinals 8:30 PM ET ESPN
Week 4 (Sun Oct 1st): Rams @ Cowboys 1 PM ET FOX
Week 5 (Sun Oct 8th): Packers @ Cowboys 4:25 PM ET FOX
Week 6: BYE
Week 7 (Sun Oct 22nd): Cowboys @ 49ers 4 PM ET FOX
Week 8 (Sun Oct 29th): Cowboys @ Washington 4:25 PM ET FOX
Week 9 (Sun Nov 5th): Chiefs @ Cowboys 4:25 PM ET CBS
Week 10 (Sun Nov 12th): Cowboys @ Falcons 4:25 PM ET FOX
Week 11 (Sun Nov 19th): Eagles @ Cowboys 8:30 PM ET NBC
Week 12 (Thurs Nov 23rd): Chargers @ Cowboys 4:30 PM ET CBS
Week 13 (Thurs Nov 30th): Washington @ Cowboys 8:25 PM ET NBC
Week 14 (Sun Dec 10th): Cowboys @ Giants 4:25 PM ET FOX
Week 15 (Sun Dec 17th): Cowboys @ Raiders 8:30 PM ET NBC
Week 16 (Sun Dec 24th): Seahawks @ Cowboys 4:25 PM ET FOX
Week 17 (Sun Dec 31st): Cowboys @ Eagles 1 PM ET FOX
When you think back and ask yourself what the litmus test game was for Dallas in 2016 you likely have one of two possible answers: Cincinnati or Green Bay.
For those screaming “What! Pittsburgh was SUCH a better game!” it’s important to understand that the Steelers game is an example of more of a statement game. The idea of a litmus test is that there’s still a quality of unknown surrounding the team, it’s defining who you are, and you can’t define yourself in the middle of November in the NFL.
Think back to when the Cowboys were playing the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers in 2016. At the time the wheels hadn’t totally fallen off of the Bengals, they were 2-2 after a win against the Miami Dolphins in the previous week’s Thursday Night Football slot, and they were coming off of five straight seasons in the playoffs with a quarterback that challenged for MVP a season earlier. We were watching that game closely.
The Packers are (ugh to the ugh power, yes you can ugh exponentially) always good and that’s the most annoying thing ever. A week after Cincinnati, which was a week before the bye, with a seemingly healthy Dez Bryant being kept on ice until Philadelphia... this was a big boy ride.
Cowboys fans everywhere were saying “This is the game. If Dak Prescott goes into Lambeau Field to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers... well we’re going to have to have a conversation.” This made a lot of sense at the time and Dak and Co. did beat the Packers and it was glorious.
Getting back to 2017, we need to look at that same window of time because that’s when the pH scales are passed around the NFL for litmus test-taking purposes.
A lot of people will want to lean towards the Atlanta Falcons because of their high-flying (Is that a pun? Because Falcons are birds? I didn’t mean it as one but I feel like it doesn’t qualify as a time where I have to specify it was unintentional, you be the judge) offense that carried them to Super Bowl LI (where they blew a 28-3 lead in case you forgot).
While it will certainly be interesting to see how the Cowboys fare against the Dirty Birds - an essential ingredient to a statement game! - this is ruled out of the litmus test possibilities. There’s a perfect litmus test storm a-brewin’ and it’s happening at AT&T Stadium on October 8th when the Green Bay Packers come to town for the first time since defeating the Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the 2016 playoffs.
This is far and away the litmus test for the 2017 Cowboys. You’ve got the historic rivalry, we STILL owe them for the Dez Catch, last year’s playoff loss hurts our souls... plus there’s the fact that this is an insanely good football team.
The way the Cowboys handle all of the emotions circling this game coupled with the fact that they’ll be taking on one of the top two quarterbacks currently in the game... this is so spicy I’m swearing. I meant sweating, but that works. Not to mention that as this is Week 5 the rookies in the secondary will have had a whole month to adjust and won’t have as much of a training wheels vibe surrounding their game.
Week 5. October 8th. Green Bay Packers. The litmus test game is one that the Cowboys lit-must win. Yes, I really said that.