The last meaningful Dallas Cowboys game was a 23-17 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. This means that Cowboys fans have had the bitter taste of losing in their mouths for 233 days. Most are eager for the new season to begin, so the disappointing ending of last year can become a distant memory.
Unfortunately, if you are waiting for a Cowboys victory to supplant the emotions associated with the playoff loss, you might have to wait a little while. Because not only is Dallas’ early schedule fairly difficult, they will be playing without several key contributors on offense. If they start to drop games early, don't panic because there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Don’t panic if the Cowboys get off to a slow start in the 2022 season
The ease of Dallas’ 2022 schedule is well documented. Depending on which source you trust, the Cowboys fall somewhere between the 23rd and 32nd hardest schedule in the league this season. But no team is able to get through an entire 17-games playing below-average opponents. There are difficult matchups on every schedule.
But there is an odd trend with the Cowboys’ schedule this year: most of Dallas' difficult matchups occur during the first six weeks. Here is a quick reminder of the opponents during this span:
vs Washington Commanders
Granted, the Cowboys get a little break in this difficult opening schedule with two division games. But Dallas will obviously be without Tyron Smith in all of these matchups, James Washington will miss at least the first four games, and Gallup will be absent for at least week one. So, for an offense that has regressed over the offseason, they will have to face the Buccaneers, Bengals, Rams, and Eagles shorthanded.
And even if they had their full arsenal, these games would be difficult. Based on Vegas gambling lines, the Cowboys are the ninth-best team in the NFL.
Here's how good betting markets think your favorite NFL team will be this year pic.twitter.com/sPExvRXIwI— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) September 6, 2022
But three out of their first six games are against teams who are stronger than Dallas, with the Eagles essentially being on the same tier as the Cowboys, according to this method of ranking teams. And Vegas is actually more optimistic about Dallas than the general consensus. According to PFF, the Cowboys are the 12th-best team in the league, with the Eagles falling at 13th and the other three teams being above them. Per NFL.com, Dallas falls all the way to 15th, with four of their first six games being against teams ranked higher than them.
So, no matter which outlet you trust the most, the Cowboys should be underdogs in three of their first six games, with the Eagles matchup being a toss-up. The implication of this is that Dallas could easily enter week seven as a 2-4 team. Then with the Lions and Bears next on the schedule, the Cowboys would have to win both games to reach .500 before the bye in week nine.
If this occurred, fans would likely begin to panic. After a 12-5 season, accumulating four losses before the bye week would be less than ideal, and it would go a long way in cementing the notion that Dallas can’t retain their NFC East crown. But even if the Cowboys are a mediocre or sub-.500 team at the bye, there is no reason to panic. The schedule clears up quickly.
Granted, they first must face the Packers coming out of the bye, who are ranked higher than Dallas in all three ranking systems listed above. But then Dallas is looking at a schedule of:
vs New York Giants
vs Philadelphia Eagles
@ Washington Commanders
All eight of those teams are weaker in Vegas’ eyes than the Cowboys. Additionally, none of those teams are ranked higher than Dallas according to PFF, and only the Colts and Eagles are ranked higher per NFL.com’s rankings. Even with the latter’s assessment, the Cowboys are at 15th with the Eagles at 14th and the Colts at 12th.
Thus, it is entirely possible that Dallas ends the season on a long win streak that mends the poor start they could face. Obviously, no fan is content with losing, and if they are below .500 entering the bye week, it will take a lot of catching up. But when crunch-time of the season is in full force, the Cowboys will be staring down the barrel of a relatively easy schedule. That is great news for Dallas’ playoff candidacy if they can weather the first six weeks.
This is a premature assumption. An injury could derail the Rams' season, and a team like the Vikings could take a massive leap forward with a new head coach. This is not to say that a weak team from last season will automatically be weak in 2022 and vice versa.
But if we take these various ranking systems at face value, it is important to keep this in mind: it is not the end of the world if the Cowboys start slow because the schedule gets significantly easier towards the end of the year. That doesn’t take any weight off the first six games, but it should ease fans worried about the Gallup injury paired with a brutal opening schedule.