At long last the NFL released the 2021 schedule for all teams this past week and the path to the Dallas Cowboys going 17-0 has officially been laid out before us. In all seriousness, there are definitely points in the schedule that we all feel are both better and worse stretches for Dallas in terms of their potential to win are concerned.
Looking at the schedule where the league handled the NFC East in a very weird way, the end of it does sort of seem favorable for the Cowboys. We all know how important it is to reel off wins in the month of December and it certainly feels like the team could be in a position to do that.
Things look pretty favorable for the Dallas Cowboys from Thanksgiving on
Ultimately, the need to win in December isn’t necessarily larger than it is in September, but it is later in the season and pressure is generally higher then. 2021 will be the first season in which NFL teams will play 17 games in the regular season so they will dip deeper into January than they ever have before, but generally speaking how the Cowboys do around Christmas time will go a long way at establishing what this season looks like for them.
Looking at the stretch from Thanksgiving Day on, things look rather favorable for the Cowboys overall. Starting with Turkey Day they will host the Raiders, visit New Orleans, visit Washington, visit New York, host Washington, host Arizona, and visit Philadelphia. Those are all teams that finished with .500 records or worse last season except for New Orleans.
The thing about last season is that it’s last season. What happened in 2020 won’t necessarily have any impact on 2021. OCC looked at strength of schedules this upcoming season and five of the six teams that Dallas will face from Thanksgiving on are in the top 10. That’s noteworthy.
Obviously anything can happen, but it is difficult to see the Cowboys not winning a majority of the games from Thanksgiving to the end of the regular season, is it not? Maybe they split with Washington and drop another to someone because football is hard (not to mention they have a three-game road trip in this stretch), but even if they lose three games at most we are talking about them picking up at least four wins over the stretch and ultimately probably at least five. Some of that will depend on how the Saints do without Drew Brees.
While the 17-game season is a new normal, it remains to be seen what the new relative floor is for playoff teams. Even with a 16-game regular season there were 10-win teams who missed out on the postseason, but more often than not that was good enough to at least earn a Wildcard berth. Maybe that number is 11 nowadays, or potentially still 10, but if we think the Cowboys can win five or so games starting on the third Thursday in November then all they have to do is get there with five or six wins at their back.
Thinking about things from a grander perspective, the important thing about the post-Thanksgiving stretch is that it comes against the worst quarterbacks that the Cowboys will face this season. By that point in time they will be done with Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Justin Herbert. They will draw Ryan Fitzpatrick twice, Daniel Jones, Jalen Hurts, Derek Carr, Jameis Winston (maybe Taysom Hill?), and Kyler Murray. You have to like those odds.
How many games do you think the Cowboys will win from Thanksgiving on?