The 2020 NFL season is nearly upon us, and the Cowboys are ready to debut their new look under head coach Mike McCarthy. Dak Prescott may be playing on the franchise tag, but he’s getting the most stacked offense he’s ever had in his career. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is also waiting to debut his multiple defense. The hope is that the tweaks and adjustments of this new staff can make up for all the narrow losses this team suffered last year.
Of course, the final records of NFL teams are often just as dependent on the schedule they play as they are on the quality of the team itself. According to CBS Sports’ strength of schedule ranking, the Cowboys will face the third easiest schedule this year. But the unusual offseason and lack of preseason games threatens to throw a wrench into everything. Despite all that uncertainty, here’s a best guess at predicting the outcome of each Cowboys game this year.
Week 1 at Los Angeles Rams
The Cowboys start their season on the road against the once-mighty Rams, led by fourth-year head coach Sean McVay. But this Rams team looks drastically different from the one that reached the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Todd Gurley is gone, as is defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, and Jared Goff is coming off his worst season under McVay.
Additionally, the Cowboys have several former Rams. Special teams coordinator John Fassel and running backs coach Skip Peete are in town, as is kicker Greg Zuerlein. That inside knowledge of the Rams’ system may prove helpful, but this is also a favorable matchup for Dallas.
Aaron Donald will be a handful for new starting center Joe Looney, but the defense as a whole lacks the capacity to fend off such a loaded Cowboys offense. The Rams’ declining offensive line should also offer a nice tune up game for the Cowboys’ pass rush.
Result: Cowboys win 28-17
Week 2 vs Atlanta Falcons
Whereas the Rams reached the Super Bowl two years ago, the Falcons were there four years ago. Since then, Atlanta has gone 24-24 and hasn’t made the playoffs the last two seasons. In an attempt to get back to the postseason, they signed the aforementioned Gurley and revamped their defense with some key free agent signings and draft picks.
As a result, this year’s Falcons are very much an unknown commodity. Will their new pieces on defense fit in right away? Will Gurley rediscover his All Pro form? Will the team still respond to head coach Dan Quinn, who’s firmly on the hot seat entering this year?
It’s unclear what those answers will be, but even if the Falcons are able to reach the playoffs they likely won’t hit the ground running. That gives Dallas an advantage, especially when it comes to exploiting this rebuilt defense. Expect Prescott to pad his stats in this one en route to a victory.
Result: Cowboys win 38-21
Week 3 at Seattle Seahawks
Seattle is a far cry from the defense-first dynasty they once were, but Pete Carroll’s team is coming off consecutive playoff seasons as Russell Wilson has ascended to the top tier of NFL quarterbacks.
While the Legion of Boom is long gone, the Seahawks got a boost on defense last year when they traded for Lions safety Quandre Diggs. In the offseason, they traded for Jamal Adams to create a very talented safety tandem. That doesn’t make them Super Bowl contenders, but between that secondary and Wilson’s heroics, this is a team you cannot overlook.
The Cowboys catch a break with no fans being allowed in the Seahawks’ usually rowdy stadium, but it won’t take away from the talent of this roster. Expect this game to be a real nail-biter, with Wilson and Prescott trying to out-duel one another all day long. In the end, the more complete team will win, and that’s the Cowboys.
Result: Cowboys win 34-31
Week 4 vs Cleveland Browns
The Browns were supposed to be good last year, capitalizing on an offseason full of big trades to finally make the playoffs. Instead, Baker Mayfield regressed, Myles Garrett tried to kill Mason Rudolph on the field, and Freddie Kitchens got fired after one year on the job.
This year, the Browns are once again supposed to be good and make the playoffs. New head coach Kevin Stefanski is bringing his 12 personnel, play action-heavy offense to Cleveland and taking a more analytical approach to the game, as he did in Minnesota last year.
But Cleveland is a rough environment for first-year head coaches, and Stefanski’s Browns will take time to adjust to the new culture and identity. Defensively, the Cowboys are well-suited to handle their offensive style with linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, while the Browns’ own linebacking corps is too weak to contend with Ezekiel Elliott. They’ll put up a good fight but fall short, enabling Mike McCarthy’s revenge tour to jump out to a 4-0 start.
Result: Cowboys win 27-21
Week 5 vs New York Giants
Jason Garrett’s homecoming will be the story on everyone’s lips for this game, as the new Giants offensive coordinator returns to Dallas for the first time since being let go. But that will distract from the more important story here: this Giants team will be bad.
Their defense, run by new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, former coordinator of the league-worst Dolphins last year, is shaping up to be the worst in the NFL. Across their entire defensive roster, only one player has ever been named to the Pro Bowl, and it was Leonard Williams all the way back in 2016.
That puts a lot of pressure on Garrett’s offense, which features second-year quarterback and turnover machine Daniel Jones alongside Saquon Barkley. In order to win games, this offense will have to score points in bunches, something Garrett’s offenses struggled with in Dallas. Coming in at 4-0 against a likely 0-4 team, this should be easy sledding for the Cowboys.
Result: Cowboys win 45-22
Week 6 vs Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals are a pretty popular pick as a dark-horse playoff team. Kyler Murray was a natural fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, and now he gets DeAndre Hopkins in addition to his talented receiving corps from last year. A repeat performance from Murray, accompanied by a marginal improvement on defense, should put this team over the hump.
When it comes to the Cowboys, their offense is perfectly suited to break this defense. The Cowboys’ secondary is their big weak point, and the Cardinals have the personnel to roll out four and five receiver sets on nearly every play and expose that weakness.
Prescott and the Cowboys offense should also put up some points against a mostly young and inexperienced defense, but this potential shootout will offer the Cowboys their first stroke of bad luck in 2020, as well as their first loss.
Result: Cardinals win 41-38
Week 7 at Washington Football Team
The good news for the Cowboys following their first loss of the season is they get a fairly simple rebound game in the form of Ron Rivera’s Washington Football Team. Rivera, also the de facto general manager, is doing a good job so far of completely rebuilding this organization from the ground up. But nobody should expect good football out of them just yet.
The defense will offer a really good pass rush, led by rookie Chase Young, but Dwayne Haskins and the offense are a year or two away from being able to really compete at the level they need to. If Rivera’s Panthers teams are anything to go off of, his Fightin’ Footballs will be a tough team to beat, but will be beat nonetheless.
More than anything, this should offer the Cowboys defense a chance to rebuild their confidence after being ripped a new one against the Cardinals. Haskins struggled in his rookie year, especially when faced with pressure, and his offensive line has arguably gotten worse this year. The Cowboys’ pass rush will earn a living in the backfield, and force Haskins into one too many mistakes.
Result: Cowboys win 27-13
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles
This is what everyone is waiting for. The Eagles and their three consecutive playoff appearances play host to the red-hot 6-1 Cowboys in the first matchup of this rivalry for McCarthy.
The Eagles traded for Darius Slay in the offseason specifically to help contain guys like Amari Cooper, and they added Jalen Reagor in the first round of the draft to give Carson Wentz (or Jalen Hurts) better weapons. There’s no guarantee it’ll work out, especially with two devastating injuries along the offensive line, but Doug Pederson’s Eagles have been consistently good at overcoming injuries.
Coming off a physically challenging win against The Football Team, the Cowboys face a tough opponent on the road and struggle to put things together. Halfway through the season, players are getting more wear and tear, and this Eagles team takes advantage of it. Dallas’ offense will get off to a slow start and have to play catch up the rest of the way, as poor tackling bites their defense hard.
Result: Eagles win 29-25
Week 9 vs Pittsburgh Steelers
The Cowboys won’t have much of an opportunity to feel sorry for themselves after such a hard loss. Even though they return home the next week, they face the Steelers. Pittsburgh lost their starting quarterback early last year and still managed to finish 8-8, showcasing their depth and grit as a team.
This year, they get Ben Roethlisberger back in addition to having stud safety Minkah Fitzpatrick around for a full year. The Steelers may not be Super Bowl front-runners right now, but they’re a dangerous team. Much like the Seahawks in Week 3, this Steelers game will test the Cowboys’ resolve, especially with Pittsburgh coming off a bye week.
After a poor showing the week before, Dallas’ offense bounces back in a big way, flexing their talented wide receiver trio to mitigate Fitzpatrick’s impact while offensive tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins take care of the pass rush led by TJ Watt.
Result: Cowboys win 34-24
Week 10 Bye
The Cowboys’ bye week comes at the perfect time. Dallas gets a week off sitting pretty at 7-2 and a real shot at getting the top seed in the NFC. More than that, they get a chance to rest and recuperate before a seven-week gauntlet to finish the season that features four playoff teams from last year.
Week 11 at Minnesota Vikings
Assuming the NFL season lasts this long, fans still probably won’t be showing up to games enough to make a real difference. But for Minnesota in late November, it’s not a big deal. The Vikings may play in a dome, but it doesn’t change the temperature, and this will be a cold one for the Cowboys.
The Vikings won ten games last year but saw big changes to their roster. They traded away Stefon Diggs, lost Everson Griffen in free agency, and saw all three of their starting cornerbacks sign elsewhere. Their replacements, mostly rookies, will likely take some time to adjust and gel as a team, but by this game they should be firing on all cylinders.
After Dalvin Cook cooked the Cowboys defense last year, it’ll be a real test for this new defense, most notably nose tackle Dontari Poe and the linebackers. Ultimately, in a game that will remind some of the loss in Chicago late last year, the Cowboys struggle to put together consistent drives and get off the field on third downs defensively.
Result: Vikings win 24-20
Week 12 vs Washington Football Team
Four days after losing a close one, Dallas has to return home for their Thanksgiving Classic game against the Washington Football Team. Despite winning by a comfortable margin in their first meetup, this round won’t be as easy.
Washington will be coming off three consecutive games - against the Giants, Lions, and Bengals - that are winnable matchups for them, and could even be riding a three-game winning streak into this contest. The Cowboys, on the other hand, are looking for a rebound game with a short schedule.
Expect the Cowboys to struggle more than they should in this one, as Rivera’s Washington team is starting to really click at this point in the year. But at the end of the day, talent wins out and the Cowboys have a decidedly strong advantage on that end.
Result: Cowboys win 21-14
Week 13 at Baltimore Ravens
The scheduling gods were unkind to America’s Team with this one. Not only do the Cowboys end up playing three games in 12 days, two of which are on the road, but the final leg of that gauntlet is the juggernaut Ravens, led by reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and a tenacious defense.
In a more neutral setting, the Cowboys would have favorable odds against this Ravens team. Their linebacker corps is athletic enough to contain Jackson (at least better than most defenses) and the offense is multifaceted enough to attack the Baltimore defense in their few weaknesses.
But this Cowboys team will come into Baltimore on the heels of two consecutive nail-biter games and face one of the NFL’s very best teams. The potential for an upset is absolutely there, but given the scheduling crunch, things could get ugly fast.
Result: Ravens win 48-32
Week 14 at Cincinnati Bengals
After the Ravens bloodbath, the Cowboys get a mini bye week, with ten days before they travel to Paul Brown Stadium to take on the Bengals. Led by rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who should be comfortable in the offense at this point, the Bengals will pose an underrated threat to the Dallas defense.
The problem for Cincinnati is their defense and offensive line are just not good. DeMarcus Lawrence and Everson Griffen in particular will have a field day against this line, getting in Burrow’s face plenty, while Dak Prescott and the offense should soar.
With the extra rest giving them a boost, the Cowboys can use this Bengals game as a nice spring board for a potential playoff run. A big win here puts them at 9-4 with momentum heading into two really tough games the next two weeks.
Result: Cowboys win 54-15
Week 15 vs San Francisco 49ers
After playing five of their last seven games on the road, the Cowboys get to return to AT&T Stadium to take on last year’s NFC champion. Featuring an efficient, run-first offense and an opportunistic defense, the 49ers will likely come into this game as Dallas’ top competitor for the top seed in the conference.
The 49ers offense, run by head coach Kyle Shanahan, is heavy on play-action, which will really test this defense to maintain their integrity. Earlier contests against similar offenses like the Browns and Vikings will help prepare them, but this offense is a different beast with tight end George Kittle.
Defensively, the 49ers run a very similar defense to the one Kris Richard brought for two years in Dallas. This will mean a lot of opportunities for Blake Jarwin over the middle, as well as Zeke and Tony Pollard out of the backfield. The 49ers also lack a true center-fielder at safety, which turns press man coverage into a dream scenario for the Cowboys’ wide receiver trio. This will be a tightly contested game, but Dak will make some big plays in the fourth quarter to seal the deal.
Result: Cowboys win 34-24
Week 16 vs Philadelphia Eagles
Between the blowout win over the Bengals and the hard-fought win against the 49ers, Dallas has momentum going into an opportunity for revenge against their division rivals. A win would give them 11 wins and likely lock up the NFC East.
After struggling on both sides of the ball in their first game against the Eagles, Dallas comes out firing on all cylinders. CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup in particular have big games as Cooper ties up Slay’s attention, and Elliott continues his trend of having big games against this Philly defense.
The Eagles will come into this game needing a win to save their playoff hopes, and the offense will certainly do its best to respond. But it’s usually the moments where Carson Wentz tries to do too much that the Eagles get bit. Look for the Dallas secondary to have a big day in this contest.
Result: Cowboys win 37-16
Week 17 at New York Giants
Entering Week 17 with an 11-4 record and a division title in hand, the Cowboys could potentially sit their starters for this game. It really depends on where they’re at seeding-wise, but assuming that 11-4 puts them a win away from locking up that top seed, let’s assume they play their starters.
If that’s the case, it’s the opportunity for a season sweep of the Giants. While New York will likely be doing better at this point in the year, odds aren’t great for any sort of drastic improvements. There may not be anyone calling for first-year head coach Joe Judge’s head, but the draft will be all anyone wants to talk about at this point.
As a result, this feels like a game reminiscent of the Cowboys’ 2018 season finale in New York, which gave us this beautiful touchdown pass to Cole Beasley. The final score likely won’t be as close, but the Giants won’t go away quietly.
Result: Cowboys win 34-28
Final 2020 record: 12-4