“Hold it, Mister,” some might say, “that’s a pretty big assumption you’re starting your post with if you’re assuming the Cowboys win the NFC East.”
It’s true, the Cowboys have not yet locked up the division. And you could rightly argue that with the way they have played the last three games, they are pretty far away from winning the division - or any game at all, for that matter. But the same applies to their only rival for the NFC East crown, the Eagles, who needed an overtime win against the hapless Giants to snap a three-game losing streak.
Sheil Kapeida of The Athletic painstakingly worked through six NFC East playoff scenarios for the Eagles and Cowboys earlier this week, and found the Cowboys win every conceivable tie-break scenario in which the Eagles and Cowboys end up with the same record.
If the two teams finish with the same record, the Cowboys are in. The Eagles have to finish with a better record than Dallas, one way or another, to take the division.
Obviously, finishing with the same record as the moribund Eagles is setting the bar as low as it can possibly get, but somebody will eventually have to win the division, and the odds, for what they are worth, currently like the Cowboys to take the NFC East. Here are some of the odds for the Cowboys taking the division title:
Football Outsiders: 66%
ESPN’s FPI Index: 66%
New York Times: 61%
Thanks to the NFL’s scheduling formula, we already know 14 of the 16 opponents each team will face next year, just not when and in what sequence. And with that info, we can take a quick look at what the 2020 schedule will look like for the Cowboys.
- In 2020, the Cowboys will play three home games and three away games against the NFC East
- They will play four games against the NFC West and four games against the AFC North
- They’ll play a team each from the NFC South and NFC North that finishes in the same spot in their division as the Cowboys will in the NFC East.
The home and away matchups have also already been determined and are summarized in the following table, with the current record for each team included:
|NFC East||Eagles (6-7)||Eagles (6-7)|
|Redskins (3-10)||Redskins (3-10)|
|Giants (2-11)||Giants (2-11)|
|NFC West||San Francisco (11-2)||Seattle (10-3)|
|Arizona (3-9-1)||LA Rams (8-5)|
|AFC North||Pittsburgh (8-5)||Baltimore (12-2)|
|Cleveland (6-7)||Cincinnatti (1-12)|
|Intraconference||NFC South||NFC North|
If the Cowboys win the division, they’ll play the division winners from the NFC South and NFC North, which currently means they’d play the Saints (10-3) at home and the Packers (10-3) on the road.
So there you have it, all 16 opponents for 2020, and there could be a few interesting twists lurking in this schedule:
- The last time the Cowboys faced the combo of AFC North and NFC West was in 2008, when Dallas limped to a 9-7 record and ended the season with a 44-6 blowout loss to the Eagles in week 17. Clearly that doesn’t augur well for 2020, though a new coach in Dallas might change that dynamic a little.
- Going by the records of the 16 opponents through Week 14 of the 2019 season, the Cowboys face a slightly tougher schedule on the road than they do at home. The home opponents currently “only” combine for a 49-54-1 record while the away opponents combine for a 52-53 record. Not much of a difference, but one might have hoped for a slightly easier road schedule.
- Over the last seven years, the Cowboys have played the Packers seven times, more than any other non-divisional opponent. The Cowboys are 1-6 in those games, including two losses in the playoffs against what is increasingly looking like a modern-day - if lopsided - rivalry. Add older rivalries with the 49ers and Steelers to the mix, along with six games against the NFC East division rivals, and every second week will be rivalry week in 2020.
- Per today’s standings, the 2020 schedule would feature six games against 2019 playoff teams: Four NFC teams (49ers, Packers, Saints, Seahawks) and two AFC teams (Ravens and Steelers). The odds are good the Cowboys could have both Super Bowl participants on their schedule next year. How’s that for a ‘welcome to the NFL’ moment for a new coach?
What are your thoughts on the potential 2020 schedule?