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The Cowboys’ 2022 schedule couldn’t be any easier

The NFL scheduling gods have smiled on America’s Team.

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Cowboys’ opponents for the 2022 season have been known for several months now, but as the saying goes, it’s not so much who you play but when you play them. Now that the actual schedule has been released, we have a better idea of when the Cowboys play each opponent, and things couldn’t have gone much better for America’s Team.

Shortly after the schedule release, many began putting out their rankings of each team’s strength of schedule, and many had the Cowboys with one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. The issue is that many of these rankings rely heavily on win-loss totals from last year, which can often be deceptive in portraying how good a team actually is.

To get a better idea of how the Cowboys’ schedule actually stacks up, though, let’s take a look at the total DVOA of each opponent from a year ago. Since this measures a team’s overall efficiency, it provides a better picture of how good a team actually is, whereas win-loss records can often be obscured when a team has a particularly easy or hard schedule.

Of course, the caveat here is that DVOA doesn’t always translate directly from one year to another, but that fact affects any sort of preseason prognostication. Historically, though, DVOA trends are more consistent than win-loss records or other figures. Of course, a team like the Broncos, who added star quarterback Russell Wilson, is obviously expected to post a much higher DVOA mark than they did this past season. However, for the most part, these efficiency metrics give a good idea of the caliber of opponents that each team will be facing.

Below is a chart that details every team’s weekly matchups by total DVOA grade from 2021. Each team is color coded based on their DVOA grade: green represents a good team, yellow represents an average team, and red represents a bad team. The average DVOA of each team’s entire schedule is in the furthest right column.

2022 Strength of Schedule by DVOA, grades courtesy of Football Outsiders

By this (admittedly imperfect) method of judging strength of schedule, the Cowboys come away with the second easiest schedule in the NFL with an average DVOA of -5.6%. Only the Eagles have an easier schedule, and theirs is easier by a huge margin; Philadelphia only plays two games against teams that graded as good last year, and it’s the two games they play against Dallas.

In looking solely at the Cowboys’ schedule, they also only face two teams graded as good, and those teams are the Buccaneers in Week 1 and the Rams in Week 5. Dallas has nine games against teams that graded out as bad last year, with four different stretches of back-to-back bad teams. These nine teams are the Giants, Commanders, Lions, Bears, Vikings, Texans, and Jaguars. Out of these teams, the Vikings currently have the odds for the best win total in 2022 according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with their win total set at nine wins. In other words, none of these bad teams from 2021 are expected to make a big jump in 2022.

Beyond the actual teams they play, though, the Cowboys benefit greatly from the timing of each game. Dallas doesn’t have any road trips longer than two consecutive games; they have three different two-game road trips, and only one such stretch features two teams that were either average or better last year in the Rams and Eagles.

Of the eight teams the Cowboys face this year that graded out as average or better last year, half of them come before the bye week and half of them come after the bye week. It helps to have these tougher opponents spread out some, avoiding any sort of gauntlet run during the season. Only twice will Dallas play any of these teams in consecutive weeks, and both stretches include the Eagles, a familiar foe.

Another important factor to consider when looking at schedules is how much rest time each team has. For Dallas, the most obvious factor is the well-timed bye week in the middle of the season, but they also can receive edges in rest on a number of other factors. When it comes to the so-called mini bye weeks or playing a team coming off a big travel schedule, Dallas is getting a big gift from the schedule makers:

All of this should greatly benefit the Cowboys. They finished the 2021 season with the highest overall DVOA grade in the NFL, but are replacing key starters like Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, La’el Collins, and Connor Williams with rookies or bargain-bin free agent signings. They’re also entering the year with the most pressure on head coach Mike McCarthy since he took the job, with the honeymoon phase decidedly over by now.

Obviously, all of this could (and likely will) change once the season kicks off and we actually see how teams perform after an offseason of changes, but the Cowboys have a schedule that should make it entirely possible - even probable - for them to stack up wins and earn a first round bye in the postseason. The schedule makers have given Dallas a gift, and it’s now up to them to not turn down the opportunity.