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A look ahead: Predicting every regular season game for the 2018 Cowboys

The season is close to starting, so let’s take a best guess at how it’ll go.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the preseason is over and the 53-man roster is more or less set, it’s time to get into the specifics of what this NFL regular season holds. The Cowboys are hoping to make the playoffs, but they have some very tough matchups on their schedule.

Week 1 @ Carolina Panthers

Dallas starts things off on the road against a team that made the playoffs last year. Carolina’s offense is led by Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey, and their defense by Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short. Dak and Zeke will have to do their best at staying away from those two playmakers on defense, and luckily for the Cowboys, the Panthers’ secondary looks pretty weak. Dak should be able to carve up the secondary and Elliott should find at least some success running the ball.

It’s a good first test for this revamped receiving corps, expect Prescott to get 2018 off to a hot start with 230 passing yards and two touchdowns. Elliott probably falls short of 100 yards on the ground, but gets a late goal line touchdown to clinch things. The hope is that the Panthers offense is still adjusting to new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and the offense stalls a bit early on because of that.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 27-20, improve to 1-0.

Week 2 vs. New York Giants

It feels like forever since the Cowboys didn’t start their season against the G-Men, but that matchup still comes early in Week 2. New York has a whole new coaching staff led by Pat Shurmur, with Saquon Barkley joining Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. But this team still has a porous offensive line and a defense full of lackluster players transitioning to a new scheme. It’s possible that the team starts putting things together by the end of the season, but in the second week they’ll still be finding their footing.

Going up against a weak run defense, Zeke will get fed plenty and produce big time, with 130 rushing yards, two touchdowns, and contributing as a receiver as well. Prescott will have a great opportunity to do damage with his legs, putting up a rushing touchdown as well as a deep bomb to Tavon Austin for a score. Michael Gallup also snags his first career touchdown. On defense, DeMarcus Lawrence should blow up Ereck Flowers for two sacks.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 35-17, improve to 2-0.

Week 3 @ Seattle Seahawks

In past years, traveling to CenturyLink Field and the 12th Man would be a daunting task. No more, though. The Legion of Boom is over as Richard Sherman is gone, Kam Chancellor is retired-ish, and Earl Thomas doesn’t want to be there. The offensive line still hasn’t been fixed, and they’re still looking for a solid option at running back. While the environment in Seattle will still be loud, the talent level is not nearly what it used to be.

Against this horrible protection, the Cowboys’ pass rush will be living in Russell Wilson’s personal space. DeMarcus Lawrence adds another two sacks and Randy Gregory gets his first sack of the season. Wilson still manages to make plays and keep things close through three quarters, though. The Seahawks’ lackluster secondary allows Prescott to toss two scores, and Tavon Austin gets a touchdown run. Elliott puts up 115 yards but no scores, and the Cowboys lean on new kicker Brett Maher more than they should have to, but he comes through and earns fans’ trust.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 30-20, improve to 3-0.

Week 4 vs. Detroit Lions

After getting off to a hot start, going up against the rebuilding Detroit Lions is definitely a trap game. The Lions could very well be coming into this game with a 1-2 or even 0-3 record, but Dallas can’t afford to overlook them. Matt Stafford is a dangerous quarterback when he gets it going. The defense is a work in progress but head coach Matt Patricia should be able to mask their weaknesses much the same way he did with the Patriots.

This will be a winnable game that ends up being way too close. Elliott ends up struggling with the surprisingly stout front seven, putting up only 75 yards and no scores. Prescott makes up for it with a needed big game, over 300 yards and four total touchdowns. Byron Jones gets an interception early on and then Xavier Woods picks off a pass to stifle a potential game-winning drive. The Cowboys get out alive, but their perfect record looks far from unblemished.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 31-28, improve to 4-0.

Week 5 @ Houston Texans

After the near loss, Dallas goes to Sunday Night Football to play against in-state rival Houston. By now, Deshaun Watson has shaken off any rust he had and the Texans have won two straight. JJ Watt is back too, with a defense that rarely lets the quarterback get off a clean throw. As challenging as the Lions game was, this one is worse.

Dak gets sacked three times, and would be more if not for his ability to scramble out of things. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus savage the offensive line, particularly La’el Collins and rookie Connor Williams. All the pressure makes Dak throw his first pick of the year. He still throws a touchdown, and Elliott rebounds from his two game slump to rack up 120 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys defense can’t contain Watson, though, and he scores five touchdowns between his arm and his legs. The Cowboys make a late rally, but Dak throws a pick six to Tyrann Mathieu on what would have been a game-tying drive in the final minute of play.

Bottom Line: Cowboys lose 42-28, drop to 4-1.

Week 6 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

After getting roughed up on the road, Dallas returns home to take on another terrific defense with the Jaguars. Affectionately known as Sacksonville, the Jags send Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Marcell Dareus, and many others after the quarterback. The Cowboys defense, though, has to contend with Leonard Fournette, but Blake Bortles is exactly the kind of quarterback who this secondary can force errors from.

In what ends up being a low scoring affair dominated by defense, Fournette gets 96 yards and Elliott barely outdoes him with 101 yards. Both backs get a touchdown. Dak continues to get sacked, but manages to scramble in for a touchdown. The Dallas secondary goes full Kris Richard, knocking receivers off routes and intercepting Bortles three times; one for Byron, one for Chido, and one for Jeff Heath. Additionally, David Irving sacks Bortles in his own endzone, resulting in a safety that puts enough pressure on the Jaguars to help out the Cowboys in crunch time.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 16-13, improve to 5-1.

Week 7 @ Washington Redskins

The Skins will be coming into this matchup on at least a four-game losing streak, and their signing of Adrian Peterson has all but flopped. By now, head coach Jay Gruden is throwing all of his running backs out there to see what works, as it’s become painfully clear that Alex Smith’s efficiency and check downs can’t be the sole source of offense.

Smith’s quick release means few sacks, but Lawrence does get one here. Still, Smith’s passes are very short ones that are wrapped up quickly (expect at least 12 tackles from Sean Lee) or fall incomplete due to tight pressure in the secondary. Jeff Heath gets a pick, and Chido nearly gets one too but Josh Doctson bats it down. The Skins defense has even more problems than the offense, and Elliott gets a bigger workload than normal given the rainy weather; he puts up 170 yards and three touchdowns, and catches Dak’s sole touchdown. Tavon Austin runs in for a score as well. Cole Beasley has a big game, moving the chains consistently, tallying 11 catches for 95 yards. Dallas makes it look easy in the rain.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 38-17, improve to 6-1.

Week 8 BYE

The bye comes at a good time, as Dallas enters with an impressive 6-1 record, but a gauntlet remaining on their schedule. They’ll likely be in first place in the division, but have yet to play the Eagles. The bye week gives them time to rest up and prepare for the road ahead.

Week 9 vs. Tennessee Titans

Coming out of the bye week can be hard sometimes, and Jason Garrett himself is 4-3 after bye weeks. Having to come out and play the Titans doesn’t make things easier. Tennessee made the playoffs last year and wasn’t satisfied, so they fired their head coach and hired Mike Vrabel. The Titans have a great offensive line that allows Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry to do their thing. The defense isn’t spectacular, but Jurrell Casey is a force to be reckoned with.

Nevertheless, Zeke continues his hot streak with 130 yards and two touchdowns, and Dak puts up 230 yards through the air to move the chains. Mariota makes one bad throw, but it turns into a Jourdan Lewis pick. Still, Mariota’s use of the RPO gets the best of this defense and paves the way for 275 yards from Mariota and two touchdowns. Dak finds Terrance Williams in the endzone late for a go-ahead score, and the Cowboys survive a scare.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 21-20, improve to 7-1.

Week 10 @ Philadelphia Eagles

And here it is, the matchup we’ve all been waiting for. This time, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott are on the field and Philly’s starters aren’t resting. The heated rivalry is even more passionate, as the winner gets control of the NFC East. Both teams are up to the task, but Lincoln Financial Field is incredibly hostile territory for America’s Team.

Carson Wentz, who is now fully recovered from his injury and completely rust-free, carves up the defense with an effective if underwhelming running game. The RPO Dallas struggled with a week prior rears its ugly head again, as Wentz gets four touchdowns to go with over 300 yards, but is picked off by Heath and fumbles twice, one of which is recovered by Jaylon Smith. Dak has a rough night, with two interceptions, no scores, and only 140 yards. Zeke picks up the slack with 120 yards and a touchdown, but Brett Maher delivers the most offense in a game where they needed much more.

Bottom Line: Cowboys lose 31-19, drop to 7-2.

Week 11 @ Atlanta Falcons

The tough loss leads right into another road game, this time against the very talented Falcons. Matt Ryan is a dangerous quarterback, the duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are impossible to stop, and the defense is energetic enough to make stops. With Tyron Smith available, it’s no repeat of last year’s Atlanta game, but the struggles are not much different.

Dak is able to move the ball better, playing mistake free football and scoring twice, both to Micheal Gallup. Zeke also gets a touchdown on a big run while racking up 135 yards, exploiting the defense’s weaknesses. But this Falcons offense proves just too much, as Ryan finds both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley for touchdowns, and the rushing duo combines for 200 yards on the ground and a touchdown apiece. A late drive by the Cowboys runs out of time, as the Falcons make just enough stops to secure the win.

Bottom Line: Cowboys lose 28-24, drop to 7-3.

Week 12 vs. Washington Redskins

It’s a quick turnaround for Dallas, with only three days to prepare for the Thanksgiving classic against the Redskins. For Washington, their ground game still has yet to materialize and injuries to the offensive line have made Alex Smith’s job even harder. Rumors about Jay Gruden’s job security have started to crop up, and an upset win over the Cowboys could help save him.

For Dallas, though, they’re on the wrong end of a two-game losing streak and can’t afford to lose any more ground in the playoff hunt. As such, Dak comes up big with over 300 yards, two passing touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown. Elliott adds a scoring run, as does Austin, and Leighton Vander Esch gets a pick-six as he starts to settle into this defense. Smith gets sacked five times by this deep defensive line, and the Redskins’ season seems to implode at the Cowboys’ benefit.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 45-10, improve to 8-3.

Week 13 vs. New Orleans Saints

Snapping the losing streak was big for the Cowboys, but they’re still behind the Eagles in the division as they go up against their toughest non-divisional opponent, the high flying Saints. Brees and the offense is electric, especially with the dynamic duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, and the defense has enough talent to limit the Cowboys offense.

Zeke ends up struggling with Cameron Jordan, but still puts up two scores. Dak avoids the talented secondary with short throws, but it limits how much the offense can do. After Brees gets a big lead, the Cowboys open up the playbook and go deeper, but aside from a touchdown to Austin, the Saints D holds firm. Brett Maher gets plenty of work again, but he’s no match for Brees, and New Orleans holds on for the win.

Bottom Line: Cowboys lose 34-33, drop to 8-4.

Week 14 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The rematch in this heated and influential rivalry comes at a critical point in the season for Dallas. By this point, Philly has locked up a playoff spot and looking for a first-round bye. Both teams are playing for playoff positioning, but the Cowboys are a little more motivated.

Zeke goes off again, this time for 125 yards and a touchdown, also catching one. But Dak is the one who stars for the team, with four touchdowns against one interception; Gallup and Beasley both have big games, as well. The Cowboys defense manages to defend against the RPO offense with tight coverage, and the narrow passing lanes make Wentz hesitate enough for sacks from Gregory, Lawrence, and Irving. He also throws an interception to Chido, and Dallas exorcises their demons while simultaneously putting themselves in a good position in the playoff hunt.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 35-24, improve to 9-4.

Week 15 @ Indianapolis Colts

In going up against the Colts, Dallas is facing a team in the first stage of a rebuild, with the recovery of Andrew Luck taking center stage and former Cowboys coach Matt Eberflus running the new look defense. Luck should be getting back to his old self by this point, but his offensive line is still a few bricks short of a house, and the defense just straight up isn’t good.

All of this is good for Dallas, as Elliott will tear up the defense for a season-high 175 yards and three total touchdowns, one thrown by Dak, who himself tosses three touchdowns. Add in some Brett Maher field goals and a special teams touchdown return, and there’s enough points to go around. The Dallas pass rush will make Luck’s life miserable, and Randy Gregory will hit double digit sacks in this game; at the end of the day, Luck doesn’t have any weapons besides TY Hilton, and he’ll be forced into two interceptions despite also throwing two touchdowns.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 48-17, improve to 10-4.

Week 16 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers entered the season with a head coach on the hot seat, and by this point in the season, Dirk Koetter has either been fired already or is a near certain casualty of Black Monday. A rocky start without Jameis Winston gets them in a hole, and a rough schedule has them entering this matchup with just four wins under the belt. The team is in disarray, with players lacking any real motivation other than playing spoiler.

That doesn’t matter, as the Bucs don’t even have the defensive talent to stop Zeke. The worst run defense in the NFL last year is slightly better with Vita Vea, but Elliott can still rack up 145 yards and a score. The pacing frees Dak up to tally 250 yards, including a big catch and run score from Tavon Austin. The Cowboys end up pulling their starters before the fourth quarter starts.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 31-7, improve to 11-4.

Week 17 @ New York Giants

This game depends on if Dallas has clinched a playoff berth yet or not. If they have, expect the starters, or at least most of them, to sit in this one and likely take a loss. But given how competitive the NFC Wild Card figures to be, between the Packers, 49ers, and the entire NFC South minus the Bucs, I’m guessing Dallas needs to win this to secure a spot. And unlike the last meeting with this team, it won’t be a blowout.

New York has gotten it together by now, and their defense is getting stronger each week. Manning is gelling with Barkley, and shutting him down gets much harder. The rookie running back puts up 135 all purpose yards and two scores, but Zeke answers him with 110 rushing yards and a big 45 yard reception to flip the field. Dak gets two touchdowns and looks ready for the postseason. DeMarcus Lawrence gets two more sacks in this game to cement his status as sack champion for the 2018 year, and Xavier Woods get two picks, albeit one of them being a meaningless one as time expires.

Bottom Line: Cowboys win 23-17, improve to 12-4.

So there you have it, the Cowboys finish with a record of 12-4, and secure a Wild Card playoff berth? Looking at the schedule, it seems like it’ll be very hard to unseat the Eagles in the division race, and it’ll be important to stack wins early in the season when it’s somewhat easier in order to secure a Wild Card spot.

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