The 2018 Dallas Cowboys were a great story. They limped out of the gate to a 3-5 start before finishing 10-6, beating the Seahawks in the Wild Card round, and then losing to the eventual NFC champion Los Angeles Rams. Still, it wasn’t enough for Jason Garrett to get a contract extension so he’ll be coaching for his job in 2019 with a new offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore.
While nothing has officially been said, it’s likely that the Cowboys will need to put together a great 2019 season featuring a deep playoff run and a significantly better offense in order for Garrett to stick around in Dallas. Unfortunately for him, the Cowboys have a very tough road ahead of them in 2019. Just take a look at the slate of games on the schedule:
Cowboys 2019 schedule— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 31, 2018
HOME: Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Bills, Packers, Rams, Dolphins, Vikings
AWAY: Giants, Eagles, Redskins, Bears, Lions, Patriots, Saints, Jets
We don’t yet know when all of these games will happen, and that will surely indicate how difficult some matchups may be - for example, if the Cowboys end up playing back-to-back road games in New Orleans and Foxborough - but even without knowing order or dates, John Breech of CBS Sports has come up with a ranking of strength of schedule for every NFL team.
As if it wasn’t already evident by the fact that Dallas plays both teams from the most recent Super Bowl, the Cowboys have a tough schedule. Playing the Saints in New Orleans, and in the loud Superdome, is bad enough considering that the Saints have gone 13-3 at home the last two years. But consider that Dallas has to travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the Patriots, who are 121-23 at home since 2001, the year that Tom Brady became the starter. In fact, the Cowboys’ 2019 strength of schedule is the highest in the division:
Besides the teams in the AFC North, the Cowboys are the only other team in the NFL that have to play both the Patriots and Rams in 2019. Thanks largely to that fact, the Cowboys have the most difficult strength of schedule in the NFC East (Ranked 14th hardest overall). Making things worse for the Cowboys is that the Eagles (26th), Giants (T-27th) and Redskins (32nd) have three of the easiest schedules heading into 2019. The Redskins actually have the easiest strength of schedule of any team for 2019, although that might not actually be much of an advantage since they don’t even know who their starting quarterback is going to be this year.
The Cowboys are already expected by many to regress going into 2019, and Football Outsiders went so far as to predict the Cowboys as the most likely 2018 playoff team to miss the playoffs next year. Last year, Football Outsiders correctly predicted the Buffalo Bills. Their explanation on picking Dallas this year makes sense:
The Cowboys finished the regular season at 10-6, but that includes a 9-3 record in games decided by eight points or less. With more typical luck in close contests, they likely would have missed the playoffs entirely. They share a division with the Eagles, who once again won a playoff game with their backup quarterback, and Washington, who might have won the division if their quarterback hadn’t ruined his leg. The road back to the postseason will be a tough one.
Now factor in that the Cowboys by far have the toughest schedule in the NFC East, and the simple fact that no team has won the NFC East in two consecutive seasons since the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, and it seems like the Cowboys will have to really pull off something special in order to make the playoffs in 2019.