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Four games that will be critical to success for the 2020 Cowboys season

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A pair of NFC East matchups and a game versus the reigning MVP will be critical for America's Team.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 NFL schedule has finally been released. At last, we now know when the Cowboys will play its divisional games, who the opponent will be on Thanksgiving Day, and how many times Dallas will be in the prime time spotlight.

Dallas is coming off of a season in which the final record was 8-8 with no playoff berth. The Cowboys have yet to have a losing record in the Dak Prescott era, but missing the playoffs again next season would be an utter disappointment.

There is some renewed excitement surrounding the team this offseason. The Cowboys signed key outside free agents in Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Then, Dallas followed that up by making a splash in the draft by adding CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs, and Neville Gallimore to its roster through the first three rounds. It remains to be seen how the draft class translates to the field, but the Cowboys have been praised by many in the media for their selections.

These four games and how the Cowboys perform in each of them will go a long way in how successful the first season of the Mike McCarthy era will be.

Week 1, Sunday Night Football: at Los Angeles Rams

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are set to open the 2020 regular season on the road against Sean McVay, Jared Goff, and the Los Angeles Rams. The matchup will be the first game played at the new SoFi Stadium in L.A.

There are a ton of storylines surrounding this game. For one, it will be the third time that 2016 first overall pick Goff takes on 2016 fourth-round pick Prescott. Prescott and Goff (and Carson Wentz, for that matter) will always be linked to one another because they are quarterbacks that were selected in the same class.

The last time that these two teams played in Los Angeles, the Cowboys fell to the Rams in the Divisional Round of the 2018 playoffs. Dak Prescott notched his first career playoff win versus Russell Wilson and the Seahawks the week before, but the Rams proved to be too much on their way to a Super Bowl appearance in the second season of the McVay tenure. The two teams met last year inside AT&T Stadium in a dominant Cowboys win (44-21), but neither team reached the postseason.

Dallas needs to find a way to grab a win on the road to begin the season. This is true for every team, obviously, but there are a lot of expectations that the Cowboys will take the next step. The addition of Lamb has everybody excited about what the Cowboys will be able to do through the air. What better way to showcase McCarthy, Lamb, and the Cowboys offense than versus a defense that features the likes of Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey inside a brand new stadium?

A dud here would not ruin the Cowboys’ season — after all, there would be 15 more games to be played, and it is outside of the division — but a win would do a lot in showing us how ready this team is in getting back to among the NFL’s best.

Cowboys. Rams. Sunday Night Football. Los Angeles. Brand new stadium. Two teams looking to get back to the playoffs after disappointing 2019 campaigns. What isn’t there to be excited about?

Week 8, Sunday Night Football: at Philadelphia Eagles

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys and Eagles are the clear top two teams in the NFC East. Each has a quarterback that they believe in and each has a fan base confident that their team will come out on top in the division. The NFC East has yet to have a repeat champion since 2004. Will that trend continue?

Dallas is set to face the Eagles on November 1st for the first time this upcoming season under the bright lights that come with Sunday Night Football. Philadelphia came out on top over the Cowboys the last time that these two teams squared off in Philly. That win gave the Eagles the division and forced the Cowboys to spend their January on the couch.

Every divisional game is important and crucial when vying for a spot in the postseason. The matchup between these two hated rivals will be no different. The Cowboys will have a difficult task on their hands when going into Lincoln Financial Field in early November. Unlike the Cowboys, Philadelphia has continuity between their coaching staff and players and should be much healthier this season than last.

The Eagles added talented defensive backs Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman along with defensive lineman Javon Hargrave this offseason. Philly did part ways with safety Malcolm Jenkins in free agency. The team added a plethora of speedy receivers during draft weekend in Jalen Reagor, Marquise Goodwin, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins.

Dallas and Philadelphia will meet again towards the end of the 2020 regular season, but this game will set the tone in who will have the upper-hand in the NFC East race. The Cowboys would likely be in great shape if they pulled off the road win.

Thanksgiving Day, Week 12: vs. Washington Redskins

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There aren’t many things that go better together than the Dallas Cowboys and Thanksgiving football. Unfortunately, things have not always gone well on that day in recent history. In both of the Cowboys’ playoff seasons since Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were drafted into the organization, Dallas has knocked off Washington. During the two seasons in which the team sat at home during postseason play, the Cowboys were embarrassed by AFC foes — Chargers in 2017, Bills last season.

So, if you’re keeping score, the Cowboys are 2-0 in making the playoffs when getting a victory on Thanksgiving during the Dak era. They are 0-2 in the years that they failed to win. That is not to say that this game determines everything, but it does appear to at least have some kind of trend in how the remainder of that season will play out.

The Cowboys are scheduled to take on Washington this year on Thanksgiving Day. If you’re looking for a good omen, the Cowboys have knocked off their division rivals from D.C. each of the last two times that Dallas clinched a playoff berth. Dak Prescott has mostly had his way with the burgundy and gold, and Amari Cooper has feasted against them since arriving in the NFC East.

Washington may not be the best team that Dallas will face all season, but Ron Rivera’s squad will be stacked on the defensive side of the ball. Rivera, a defensive minded coach, added a blue-chip talent in Chase Young through this year’s draft to pair with fellow first-rounders Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, and Jonathan Allen along the defensive line.

The Cowboys’ will have their hands full against an aggressive and talented defense on Turkey Day.

Week 13, Thursday Night Football: at Baltimore Ravens

NFL: New York Jets at Baltimore Ravens Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys have a difficult matchup just seven days after facing Washington at home. Dallas is set to take on the Baltimore Ravens — led by the league’s reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson — on the road to kickoff a difficult December slate that features games against the Ravens, 49ers, and Eagles.

This will be the third game in 12 days for Dallas, and they will be on the road to take on a team that finished with the league’s best regular-season record a season ago and perhaps the most exciting quarterback. Dallas will have just a week — and not much rest — to prepare for everything that Jackson can throw at them with his arm and legs.

Much like the Cowboys, Baltimore have received tons of praise for their 2020 draft class that included players such as linebacker Patrick Queen, running back J.K. Dobbins, and speedster Devin Duvernay. Mike Nolan’s defense will have to be ready for the John Harbaugh run game along with tight end Mark Andrews.

The Cowboys will likely be beat up, at least on the offensive side of the ball, after playing Rivera’s defense the week before. If Dak Prescott and company can go into M&T Bank Stadium on a likely chilly Thursday December evening and knock off the reigning MVP and a legit contender, that would mean good things. Talk about a statement win that would be.