It’s no secret that finishing the regular season off strong is a big key to postseason success. Since the 2010 season, almost every team that went on to win the Super Bowl won at least five of their last seven games. The two exceptions were the 2011 Giants and 2012 Ravens. In the Dak Prescott era, the Cowboys have never had a losing record in their final seven games (or overall, for that matter) and twice they’ve won five or more of them, resulting playoff appearances.
In glancing ahead at the Cowboys’ schedule, it seems like Dallas will need to continue this late-season dominance if they want to return to the postseason. While it’s a little early to know with any certainty how teams will turn out, it seems as if the Cowboys will face an incredibly tough seven games within their final eight weeks.
It starts in Week 10 with a home stand against the Vikings. While they missed the playoffs last year, Minnesota should be much improved in 2019. They patched up their two biggest weaknesses from last year - offensive line and offensive coordinator - and still have a scary defense. It should be noted that this game is on Sunday night and Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is known for struggling in prime time, but beating this team will not be easy by any stretch, even with the home field advantage.
After hosting the Vikings, Dallas has to travel to Detroit to take on the Lions. While they weren’t very good in Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach, the Lions took big steps to improve in the offseason. First, they brought in Darrell Bevell as their new offensive coordinator, who created some incredibly efficient offenses for the Seahawks during the high point of their dynasty. He takes over an offense with Matthew Stafford that added Danny Amendola and Jermaine Kearse to a receiving corps already featuring Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. Additionally, Detroit signed tight end Jesse James and drafted TJ Hockenson, giving Stafford tons of weapons to throw to when he’s not handing the ball off to newfound bell cow Kerryon Johnson.
Defensively, the Lions have added monstrous nose tackle Damon Harrison since the last time the Cowboys faced this team, as well as signing an edge rusher in Trey Flowers to go along with an already strong defensive line. The Lions’ secondary still has some questions to answer, but remember this is a team that lost by two points in Dallas last year. Now, the game is in Detroit so they’ll have geography on their side this time.
Once Dallas is done with the Lions, though, they travel to New England for perhaps their toughest game all season. It’s not bad enough that the Patriots have won six Super Bowls since 2001, but they additionally have the best home field advantage in the NFL. In the last decade, the Patriots are 71-9 at home; you have to go all the way back to October 1, 2017 to find the last time they lost a home game. It’s not impossible to beat them in Foxborough, but the odds are certainly not in the Cowboys’ favor.
The Patriots roster is strong. Gronk is gone, but they added big-bodied N’keal Harry to their receiving corps, as well as Demaryius Thomas, and Alabama running back Damien Harris will join Sony Michel and Friends in an unstoppable running back rotation. Oh, and Tom Brady is still their quarterback.
After what’s sure to be an incredibly tough game in New England, the Cowboys fly all the way back home and have a game to play in four days against the Bills. Buffalo was 6-10 last year and is a generally tragic franchise this century, but they had the second best defense in the league last year and the top passing defense. Then they added Ed Oliver, who received several Aaron Donald comparisons from draft analysts.
Oh, and Buffalo dedicated the majority of their offseason to building an offense around their second year quarterback Josh Allen, including the addition of Cole Beasley. While not yet a finished product, the Bills offense should improve upon their third-from-the-bottom output last year. Combined with an elite defense, this could be a trap game for the Cowboys coming off such a tough matchup just four days prior.
The Cowboys then have just one week to prepare for yet another undesirable matchup: on the road in Chicago in December at night. Fans who remember the 2013 season know that this is a bad idea for Dallas. Never mind that the Bears are coming off a 12-win season and entering this season as bona fide Super Bowl contenders. They have a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano, but that defense still has Khalil Mack headlining a comically overpowered defense.
Soldier Field is already a hard place to play at, but with the Bears potentially fielding one of the best teams in the NFL, playing said game in what could very well be snowy conditions, and being the Cowboys’ third game in 12 days, this could be a recipe for disaster. It’ll truly be a test of the team’s resilience.
But wait, there’s more. While the Cowboys get to return to AT&T Stadium and have ten days before their next game, that game is against the reigning NFC champion Rams. Los Angeles is 24-8 under Sean McVay and is definitely among the NFC favorites. While questions abound over Todd Gurley’s health, his unavailability didn’t stop the Rams from steamrolling this Dallas defense in the playoffs last year, and it likely won’t hinder them from being a very formidable foe yet again.
The long rest should help the Cowboys recoup from their gauntlet of games and prepare for a chance at revenge over the team that knocked them out of the postseason a year ago. But it certainly won’t be an easy task. And beyond this game, the Cowboys enter their penultimate game with yet another road game, this time in the ever-hostile Philadelphia. While Dallas swept the Eagles last year, that doesn’t mean this game will be a cake walk by any means, and the bitter rivalry will only make things harder.
November and December are where champions emerge, and if the Cowboys want to be champions, they’ll have to survive a potentially brutal assortment of these seven games. This isn’t to suggest the rest of the schedule will be easy, but it doesn’t match this seven game stretch towards the end of the year. If Dallas can’t find a way to win a majority of these games, they could easily find themselves out of the playoffs.