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Identifying the toughest adversaries on the Dallas Cowboys 2021 schedule

Examining the Cowboys 2021 schedule and the players who could give them problems week to week.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On paper, the Dallas Cowboys 2021 schedule looks pretty favorable as far as win/losses are concerned. They have a really good shot at winning double-digit games this year, but we all know how things stack up on paper don’t exactly translate to how things play out on the field.

The key to victory each week typically depends on executing the game plan and making the proper in-game adjustments. That hasn’t always been the Cowboy strong suit, but a good way to get off on the right foot is identifying and neutralizing each teams toughest adversary from week to week.

Week 1: QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL: FEB 07 Super Bowl LV - Chiefs v Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s a reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2020. They are a talented team on both sides of the ball, but we all know they live and die on the arm of Tom Brady. He is the heart and soul of this team and the only reason they were Super Bowl champions last year. If the Cowboys can put enough pressure on him and make him uncomfortable, they have a chance of winning this Week 1 matchup.

Week 2: QB Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Chargers aren’t talent deprived, but the Cowboys biggest adversary in this Week 2 matchup is their second-year QB Justin Herbert. He’s coming off a fantastic rookie season and should be much improved with a year of confidence and production under his belt. This is the second week in a row the Cowboys need to pressure the opposing QB as much as possible to have any chance of a victory.

Week 3 & 18: WR DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There’s so much unknown surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles right now it’s really difficult to know what kind of team they will be in 2021. Despite that, a new face joining the team is going to be the biggest adversary for the Cowboys over the next several years. WR DeVonta Smith is a threat anytime he touches the ball and is someone the Cowboys secondary is going to have to account for on any given play because of that.

Week 4: RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Christian McCaffrey is one of the more dynamic running backs in the entire league in both the running and passing game when healthy. Unfortunately for him, the injury bug bit him pretty hard last season which caused him to miss the majority of the year. He should be back to 100% when he faces off against the Cowboys in Week 4, and sadly enough, he’s exactly the kind of RB who has given them a lot of problems in the past.

Week 5 & 15: RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The New York Giants lost RB Saquon Barkley early in the 2020 season after back-to-back 1,000-yard performances in his first two years in the league, and they were never the same without him. He’s been a thorn in the Cowboys side since the Giants selected him with the second-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and should continue to be so being nearly a year removed from his season-ending ACL injury.

Week 6: HC Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

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The New England Patriots are rumored to be one of the teams trying to trade for talented WR Julio Jones, and if that trade is completed he would no doubt be a huge problem for the Cowboys in Week 6. But, as things stand right now, Bill Belichick is the toughest adversary. He’s often described as a defensive mastermind and his game preparation and in-game adjustments are second to none. He’ll come up with some kind of game plan to slow the Cowboys high-powered offense down.

Week 7: BYE WEEK

Week 8: RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

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Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson are definitely problems on their own, but the Minnesota Vikings success or failure in 2021 depends on RB Dalvin Cook. The last two times Cook has faced off against the Cowboys in 2019 and 2020, he’s torched them both through the air and on the ground for a total of more than 300 yards. If Dallas can somehow contain him and make the Vikings one-dimensional, they have a good shot of winning.

Week 9: DEs Von Miller & Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Jacksonville Jaguars v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos have arguably the most talented and fearsome duo in the entire NFL in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. They have the ability to take over the game all by themselves and if the Cowboys aren’t careful they could make things extremely difficult for Dak Prescott. If Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are 100% healthy, they are good enough to handle these one-on-one matchups, but Dallas would be wise to get them a little extra help if/when it’s needed.

Week 10: TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

2021 NFL Draft Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

With Julio Jones currently on the trade block, Kyle Pitts likely becomes the most dangerous threat the Atlanta Falcons currently have on the roster. No offense to Calvin Ridley, but he’s not quite the mismatch weapon in the passing game as Pitts is. Pitts’ size, speed, and athletic ability make him a matchup nightmare against smaller defensive backs or just about any linebacker in the league. Dan Quinn will have to come up with a creative way to contain the Falcons talented rookie TE.

Week 11: WR Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

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There’s not many players in the entire league who can do the kind of things Tyreek Hill has been able to do since joining the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league and due to his rare speed is also a problem on gadget plays like end arounds, reverses, and jet sweeps. He is definitely someone the Cowboys are going to have to game plan and account for on any given play due to his game-breaking ability.

Week 12: TE Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

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Josh Jacobs is one of the more talented running backs in the league, but the Raiders shuffling of their offensive line this offseason makes him less of a threat. With that in mind, Darren Waller is the toughest adversary the Cowboys will have to worry about in Week 12. He has the size and strength of a tight end, but the athletic ability of a wide receiver. He is a big mismatch problem for Dallas’ secondary and one they will have to game plan for.

Week 13: RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Divisional Round - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints aren’t going to be the same team without QB Drew Brees under center. However, they still have a really talented roster headlined by one of the most talented RBs in the entire league, Alvin Kamara. Kamara is just as dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield as he is as a runner between the tackle. He is definitely someone who is going to have to be game-planned for and contained for Dallas to have any chance of securing a Week 13 victory.

Week 14 & 16: Washington Football Teams defensive front

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There may not be a better defensive front in the entire NFL then the Washington Football Team has at their disposal. Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, among others will give the Cowboys offensive line all they can handle from both inside and out. Dallas’ o-line is talented enough to hold their own against WFTs defensive front, but playing this late in the season you have to take injuries into consideration, especially for Tyron Smith.

Week 17: WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

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The trade from Houston that landed WR DeAndre Hopkins in Arizona still amazes me to this day. He may not be getting any younger, but he is still one of the top receivers in the game who consistently demands extra attention in the passing game. How the Dallas Cowboys try to contain him will likely impact how this game ends up turning out. If he ends up having a big game it’s highly unlikely Dallas comes away with a victory.