Last week here at BTB we opened the doors to discuss which game could be a potential litmus test for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. The general consensus seems to agree that it’ll either be when Dallas squares off with the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, or one of their match-ups with the division rival New York Giants.
To be clear... a litmus test game is an opportunity to establish a barometer. You’re using that game to find out who you are against formidable foes, similar to the mindset of Cowboys fans entering Weeks 5 and 6 of last season against the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers, respectively.
What about the opportunity to make a statement, though? When will that game be for the Cowboys this season? And what is a statement game anyway? How is it different from a litmus test?
Once again, the litmus test is an opportunity to assess yourself against competition you deem legitimate. A statement is a chance to send a message to the world who you are and what you’re capable of.
Perhaps the best example of a statement game happened in more recent Dallas Cowboys history - October 12th, 2014. You see on this day, while Joe Buck was out doing the World Series and Thom Brennaman filled in for him, the Cowboys were on America’s Game of the Week during their first visit to Seattle since the Seahawks were crowned Super Bowl XLVIII Champions.
Seattle was 3-1 and boasted what was unarguably the league’s finest defense. Dallas was 3-1 and trying to let the world know that their ground game was in a different echelon compared to the rest of the NFL. An unstoppable force met an immovable object, and the Dallas Cowboys won 30-23... letting the NFL know that the 2014 iteration of the franchise was for real.
You see, up until that point the Cowboys had reeled off victories against the Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams, and a version of the New Orleans Saints that would begin three straight 7-9 seasons for the Big Easy. You know what life like that is like, “They haven’t played anybody!” rains down from the naysayers, which is when statement games can come in handy.
Think back to a season ago and when the world really took notice of the Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott as the total package. There were excuses and/or qualifiers as to why they beat Team A or Opponent B, but when the Cowboys went in to Pittsburgh and punched the Steelers in the mouth even the biggest doubters were forced to acknowledge that this team is elite.
Look at the 2017 Dallas Cowboys schedule and consider when there are statement-level opportunities:
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
There is undoubtedly going to be someone - hello if it’s you! - that says, “EVERY GAME IS A STATEMENT OPPORTUNITY. WE HAVE TO WIN THEM ALL,” and while I obviously agree with that... we’re obviously talking about games that have a ripple effect on a team’s perception. No one is going to be impressed with the Cowboys beating the 49ers.
That being said, there are a few opportunities that we’re looking at here. I understand if you feel that Week 1 against the New York Giants is a statement opportunity, because it obviously is, but a team’s perception isn’t at all solidified in Week 1. If this leads you to say Week 14 in New York, hey it’s your cup of tea.
When you remember how the Atlanta Falcons dismantled the Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs, you remember thinking what it would be like had the Cowboys hosted them in the NFC Championship Game. That offense was clicking, and the collective boots of Cowboys fans were shaking.
The November 12th game in Atlanta is the perfect statement type of game. It’s in November when narratives are really being driven hard, it’s a squaring off of what many people believe (in spite of Mason Crosby’s foot which I will hate forever) should have been the NFC Championship Game, and it’s the ninth game of the season for the Cowboys... meaning they are in total and complete midseason form.
Atlanta fits the bill of how many people will answer the question posed here, and that’s with “Our statement opportunities are against the playoff teams from last year.” We’re talking about a team that, while on the subject of should haves, should have won Super Bowl LI and will be playing their inaugural season in their fancy new stadium. Games like those get remembered, and if you don’t believe me ask anyone who is still sore about Eli Manning and the Giants writing on the then-Cowboys Stadium locker room walls.
The hype surrounding Cowboys/Falcons will be insurmountably huge. It has all the billings and necessities to qualify it as this season’s statement opportunity. Beyond their game against the Green Bay Packers, which I deemed their litmus test game, this is a tango with the only other team people thought were better than them within the conference last season. Make a statement, there couldn’t be a more perfect opportunity.