The full NFL schedule was released yesterday. Fans are already skimming through the schedule and making their premature picks for wins and losses on their favorite team’s schedule. When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, expectations are high, and the Cowboys are expected to compete for the postseason and beyond. Let’s take a closer look at the schedule and asses which games will make or break their postseason hopes.
Week 5 vs. the San Francisco 49ers
This rematch of last year’s divisional playoff has the Cowboys, once again, on the road at Levi Stadium. The 49ers boast a fierce defense that gives many NFL teams fits and Dak Prescott, along with the Cowboys’ offense, have been unable to solve the 49ers’ defense in their past two postseason meetings. Head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the NFL’s brightest offensive play designers and manages to craft a dynamic offense without having a premier quarterback.
Who starts under center for San Francisco is anybody’s guess. Brock Purdy and Trey Lance could both be named the starter. This game matters because the Cowboys have to prove they can get past a team that has been a thorn in their side, and will try to do it in primetime on Sunday Night Football. If the Cowboys want to not only make the playoffs, but exorcise prior demons, they have to find a way to win this game. The 49ers are the pinnacle of a premier defense, and though it is a regular season game, it is sure to have playoff implications in seeding and is sure to have an electric atmosphere.
Week 12 vs. the Washington Commanders
On paper, the first matchup of the season between both these teams may not seem significant outside of it being a divisional matchup. However, for a team like the Cowboys that have have a lot riding on this season, this game means a lot. Besides the spectacle of playing in a marquee game on a national holiday (Thanksgiving), the Cowboys need to demonstrate to everyone watching across the country that they are truly rounding into postseason form.
Thanksgiving is the beginning of the home stretch and when teams that get hot at the right time of the year start to come together. The Commanders are still searching for a solid solution at quarterback. Sam Howell is likely to be named the starter and did beat the Cowboys in last year’s season finale. Yet, the Commanders still appear to be a team in transition. With the impending sale of the team, head coach Ron Rivera enters the season on the proverbial hot seat. The Cowboys have to “command” center stage and the country’s attention by handling business on Thanksgiving.
Week 2 vs. the New York Jets
Week 2 on the schedule is so crucial. Sure, there’s the intrigue of Aaron Rodgers coming to AT&T Stadium for yet another showdown against the Dallas Cowboys. Still, in order for the Cowboys to start fast and give themselves the best chance to make the playoffs, they need to ensure they win either one of their first two games. If there was any added incentive, since 1970 only 9.5% of teams who start the season 0-2 have made the playoffs. Facing a division foe in the season opener, the Cowboys could very well head into week two facing that proposition.
The New York Jets were one of the surprises of the NFL last year under Robert Saleh, sprinting out to a 6-3 start before sputtering to a 7-10 finish. The Jets had one of the most promising rosters, but the quarterback was one big albatross. After trading for Rodgers, the Jets appear to the assembling one of the elite teams in the AFC. New York has a tough defense with Quinnen Williams up front and defensive rookie of the year Sauce Gardner was an All-Pro in his first season. New York is a big barometer early in the season for the Cowboys.
Week 10 vs. the New York Giants
No surprise that there’s another divisional game on this list, but the Giants are built to be at best a contender for the division title, and at worst, a contender to compete for a wild card spot. The Cowboys swept the Giants in the season series last season but they were no pushover as many had thought entering 2022. They were lacking explosive playmaking and found a means to remedy that problem. The Giants drafted Tennessee speedster Jalin Hyatt to give their offense a more vertical element. In addition to that, they traded for former Raiders tight end Darren Waller.
The NFC might not be as top-heavy as in years past, with the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking a step back, but the Giants (along with the Detroit Lions who are also on the schedule) taking a step forward in the manner in which they did makes the bottom of the NFC playoff picture very hard to prognosticate. In fact, of last year’s seven playoff teams in the NFC, four are on the Cowboys’ schedule.
Losing this game to New York would be detrimental to the Cowboys’ chances for good playoff seeding in the conference.
Week 14 vs. Eagles
Long before Cowboys fans had any knowledge of when this game would be played, they had this game at the forefront of their mind. They wanted to know when the Cowboys would have the chance to play the hated Philadelphia Eagles. It can’t be overstated how deeply entrenched this rivalry is in the NFL. Week 14 against the Philadelphia Eagles will decide two things. First, we’ll see how much the Cowboys have closed the gap between themselves and Philadelphia under the pressure of a late-season contest. Second, the winner of this game likely has the inside track for the NFC East title.
That rivalry took an even more irksome turn with the Eagles making their second run to the Super Bowl since 2017 last season and the Cowboys have to finish ahead of the Eagles in the standings. It won’t be easy since Jalen Hurts emerged as an MVP candidate after a stellar season and after landing a new contract.
The Eagles retooled their roster after some key departures this offseason. They picked up running back D’Andre Swift from the Detroit Lions. They also added edge rusher Nolan Smith and defensive tackle Jalen Carter in last month’s draft to complement their defense. Dak Prescott has a career 8-3 record against the Eagles. The series finale between these two teams does come with four regular-season games remaining on the calendar, but there’s a lot riding on the line when these teams meet in Week 14.
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