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Best and worst case scenarios for Cowboys schedule: Weeks 9-12

The Cowboys see the Eagles and Commanders for the first time in this stretch, and close the season series with the Giants.

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

By this point in the 2023 season (Weeks 9-12), the type of team the Cowboys field should be much clearer, but what that means for their NFC East hopes is far from determined. After looking at scenarios for the early season, plus mid-season games against other contenders like the 49ers and Chargers, the Cowboys will see the Eagles and Commanders for the first time in this stretch of weeks 9-12.

With a home game against the Giants and road trip to face top overall pick Bryce Young at Carolina, this point in the schedule will define just how much room the Cowboys have for error as they look ahead to December road games at the Bills and Dolphins.

Week 9 at Philadelphia Eagles

Remarkably, this is the first time we’re looking at a Cowboys-Eagles matchup in this series, with the 20th straight primetime version of this game slated later for Week 13 on a Sunday night in Arlington. The Cowboys return to the site of Cooper Rush’s only loss as a starter from last season.

Best and worst case scenarios can be pretty cut and dry when it comes to divisional games, but this heated rivalry is likely to determine who wins the division, with the Eagles being the measuring stick team for many others around the league after their Super Bowl appearance.

While the Cowboys will have already tested themselves against the Chargers, 49ers, and Patriots, the Eagles will have already faced the Jets and Dolphins - two of their tougher early season games on paper right now.

Best case:

With a defense that won’t be able to take the league by surprise anymore, so much of this Cowboys season will be defined by how consistently Dak Prescott can move the ball and score points in a new offense called by Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys saw Rush throw three interceptions in this game last year and still stayed within 26-17 of the eventual NFC champions.

With a win, the table could be set for a late-season sweep of the Eagles in a December home game. Generating offense against the Eagles isn’t the only thing the Cowboys need to see though, as the Eagles offense has new ways to stretch defenses with not only Hurts but D’Andre Swift in the backfield.

Hurts is far from the first dynamic QB the Cowboys will see on the schedule, having already potentially played against Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray, Trey Lance, and Justin Herbert. If they’ve proved their up to the challenge of defending the dual-threat game of Hurts, the best case scenario for this game is a turnover free performance from Prescott to keep Dallas ahead.

If they’ve shown some form of regression and need more support from the offense, the Cowboys are focused on creating more vertical plays in the pass game this year, and this would be a great game to show that with not only CeeDee Lamb but Michael Gallup and Jalen Tolbert as well.

Worst case: Is there a worse feeling on Monday as a Cowboys fan than waking up after a loss to the Eagles? True NFL rivalries where both teams across from each other genuinely dislike each other are hard to come by, but this feels like one that transcends the field and extends into the fan bases of Philadelphia and Dallas.

Of course, simply losing and falling behind the Eagles is the bulk of what a worse case scenario looks like for the Cowboys. Having turned the ball over three times here last year, and seeing Prescott throw a career high 15 interceptions last year, the Eagles defense could make this a long night if the Cowboys offense isn’t creating separation.

Prescott will have to avoid costly turnovers against a defense that loaded up on even more blue-chip SEC talent. The Eagles drafted Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Kelee Ringo out of Georgia, and still have familiar names James Bradberry, Darius Slay, and Fletcher Cox to make this a true litmus test game for McCarthy. This is the type of big game his offense is supposed to be ready for, and losing in similar fashion to 2022 with Prescott on the field, would be something the Cowboys are forced to move on from quickly with two more divisional games in the next three weeks.

Week 10 vs New York Giants

If the Cowboys win their Week 1 Sunday night opener at the Giants, they’ll be playing for a third straight sweep of their rivals from New Jersey. By putting these teams under the lights to open the season, the league is hoping the Giants can build on a surprise nine-win season that saw Brian Daboll make the playoffs as a first-year head coach.

The Giants certainly understand the work cut out for them to have any type of staying power in a division with the Eagles and Cowboys, trading for Darren Waller this offseason, drafting Deonte Banks to tighten up the secondary, and giving Daniel Jones a burner in Jalin Hyatt out of Tennessee. Getting the Cowboys off of a physical game against the Eagles may work in their favor here, but they still have not won in Dallas since 2016.

Best case: Since this matchup was covered in Week 1, the added importance of this being a second straight divisional game for the Cowboys is the only real change. Stacking up wins against the Eagles and Giants in a two week stretch is far-and-away the best case scenario for Weeks 9 and 10, but even earning a split should keep them in the race.

The Cowboys have built their home-winning streak against the Giants by scoring points at will, winning by an average margin of nearly two touchdowns. At this point in the season, the games for McCarthy’s offense to prove they’re still a top scoring offense in the league will be behind this team, and beating the Giants always comes down to execution on just one or two turning point plays.

Whether the Cowboys are playing as a desperate team off a loss to Hurts and the Eagles, using this as motivation to get after Daniel Jones, or looking to jump ahead in the division with another statement win, finding anyway to defend AT&T Stadium turf against the Giants is the simple goal here.

Worst case: This is exactly the type of game the Giants are out to prove they’re ready for this season, and are built to win in some of the same ways the Cowboys are. Relying on a run game with Saquon Barkley, short passes to Waller, and a defense that’s stout against the run will test the Cowboys in some of the same ways they plan on scheming.

If drafting Mazi Smith is truly going to be the last missing link to Dan Quinn’s defense being better all-around against the run, having Barkley and the Giants offense move the ball with ease on the road would be a disaster. As mentioned, the Cowboys will have already seen more established quarterbacks earlier in the season, so letting one get away in a favorable matchup of Jones vs. Prescott could be a setback that’s hard to recover from in the NFC East.

Week 11 at Carolina Panthers

For the second straight year, the Cowboys will play against that season’s top draft pick, though this time in a much bigger sense. The Jaguars and Travon Walker upset the Cowboys at home last season, and now Bryce Young and the Panthers will look to hand a similarly tough loss to the Cowboys in Week 11.

This being the only break from NFC East play in this stretch, it’s an important game for the Cowboys to not lose focus and handle business against a team still going through a rebuild.

Best case: The Cowboys will have prepared for this matchup against Young with plenty of other mobile quarterbacks by this point. If they truly want to prove they have a defense still capable of winning games on their own, this would be the game to do it, giving Young the type of rookie performance all young QBs must go through and learn from.

On offense, the Cowboys will have to prepare for Von Bell, Shaq Thompson, and Brian Burns on a Panthers defense that has plenty of youth and athleticism. The last time Dallas played here was 2018, a season opening 16-8 loss in the Jason Garrett/Scott Linehan era. So many faces and names have changed on the Cowboys offense since then, but some concepts have remained the same up until now. It won’t take until Week 11 to know if McCarthy’s offense is truly a change of pace for this team, but it is a point in the season where they’ll have to show the consistency down the stretch that Kellen Moore’s offenses struggled to.

Worst case: Dropping this game to the Panthers only makes the rest of the schedule more daunting for the Cowboys. They’ll play against the Commanders twice still, but also against four other playoff teams from a year ago including the Eagles over the final seven weeks.

The Panthers play in a wide open division with Tom Brady no longer in Tampa Bay, so this is not a game Dallas can take lightly as one they’ll be playing against a team likely out of contention. Already at their maximum number of primetime games, this early kickoff spot could create the same type of afterthought that led to an overtime loss in Jacksonville in 2022.

Week 12 vs Washington Commanders (Thanksgiving)

For the second straight year, the Cowboys play a divisional game on Thanksgiving, this time seeing the Commanders for the first time all season. The Commanders feel like one of the more unknown teams in the league right now, winning eight games with Carson Wentz, Taylor Heinicke, and Sam Howell all starting at quarterback. With Wentz and Heinicke no longer on the team, the job will be either Howell or Jacoby Brissett’s.

In a division known for never having repeat winners, the Commanders can no longer be counted as an easy win across the board on the schedule for the Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles. With both matchups against Dallas coming so late in the year, the added importance of the Cowboys to start a new win streak against the Commanders is higher than ever - ending 2022 with an inconsequential 26-6 loss in Washington.

Best case: The last time the Commanders played the Thanksgiving game in Dallas, they tore through a Mike Nolan defense to win 41-16. It was the Commanders second Thanksgiving win in ten tries through this historic rivalry, and now serves as a great example of just how far the Cowboys defense has come.

Depending on the rookie season Young is having with the Panthers, the Commanders QB situation may be the most favorable the Cowboys see in this stretch. The same type of signal caller advantage they’ve relied on with Prescott in NFC East games should be on full display here. A short week to prepare means leaning more into base concepts on both sides of the ball, but with Quinn’s defense proving they can create turnovers at a league-best rate two years in a row, the Cowboys will be favored across the board in this game.

Style points don’t matter when it comes to division play, but a comfortable win as Cowboys fans enjoy their Thanksgiving before moving on to another Thursday game the week after versus the Seahawks would set Dallas up nicely for the home stretch.

Worst case: The Commanders spoiling Thanksgiving would add importance to the Week 17 road meeting between these teams, giving the Cowboys far less room for error in the games leading up to it against AFC powerhouses. The Cowboys don’t get the benefit of seeing the Commanders early in the year while they work out their QB situation, and by this point either Howell or Brissett could be poised for a surprise upset.

The Washington defense has always been tough for Dallas to run against, so in a game where their offense puts pressure on the Cowboys pass game to play a complete game, the chances for an upset increase. This would be exactly the type of loss that calls into question how viable a playoff team the Cowboys can be again this year, and if McCarthy has a future beyond this season as the play-caller and head coach.

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