It’s been a dull few weeks around the NFL, but last night the league finally threw us a bone and released its 2014 season schedule, complete with dates, channels and tentative times.
We already knew who the Dallas Cowboys would be playing and where, but not in what order, which made speculation nearly impossible. Now that the schedule is out, let the far-too-early predictions begin! Here are my initial thoughts:
Week One: vs. San Francisco 9/7
I was hoping the Cowboys would start the season in Seattle, but the league selected the Packers for that game. Playing the ‘Niners, however, isn’t a bad consolation prize. It helps the Cowboys to have them at home, but their three-game winning streak over San Fran is very much in jeopardy this year.
This game will be a very good indicator of where this team stands. It would be enough to play the 49ers close, but beating them would be a fantastic way to set the tone for the season. Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree will burn this secondary if it doesn’t improve, so Dallas has to at full speed right away to start this season.
Week Two: at Tennessee 9/14
This is far from a gimme game, especially on the road. The Titans lost their top rusher and passer from 2013 in Chris Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Ken Whisenhunt will have his new guys geared up and ready to beat America’s Team.
The Cowboys will be favored in this one regardless of whether they start the season with a loss, so going down 0-2 here would be a very discouraging development.
Week Three: at Rams 9/21
One year after hosting the Rams in Week 3, the Cowboys will travel to St. Louis for this year’s tilt. There are big questions surrounding the Rams right now, including the future of Sam Bradford, but after finishing last year at 7-9 this team seems on the verge of a breakthrough in the very tough NFC West.
With two first-round draft picks, the Rams could be a big surprise this year, and the Cowboys offer them a fantastic early-season proving ground. Don’t expect another blowout this time around.
Week Four: vs. Saints 9/28
Santa Claus Rob Ryan is coming to town, and with him the team that shellacked the Cowboys last season to the tune of 49-17. Yikes. The Saints are riding a three game overall win streak against the ‘Boys, and the Dallas defense will have to figure out Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham if they want to change that.
But hey, it could be worse. The Saints are beatable on the road, and the Cowboys will have a lot to prove against them. Hopefully this will be a better matchup than it was last season.
Week Five: vs. Texans 10/5
Interstate rivalry is always fun, especially when the interstate rival was 2-14 last season and comes to town toting its shiny new No. 1 pick (assuming Houston keeps its No. 1 pick). Fans will flock to AT&T Stadium in droves just to see Johndaveon Clownzel play his snaps.
Houston will be better this season, but this should be a case where the Cowboys take care of business at home.
Week Six: at Seahawks 10/12
Whyyyy? It’s bad enough to play the defending Super Bowl champs, but to do it in Seattle? A Dallas win here would be stunning to say the least.
Seattle has managed to retain the core of their roster this offseason and will be a preseason favorite to make another Super Bowl run. If they hold true to form, this game won’t concern them too much. The best Dallas can hope for is to catch the Seahawks napping.
Week Seven: vs. Giants 10/19
Finally in Week 7 comes the NFC East and the enigmatic Giants. Expect them to continue their late-season run and be in the thick of the playoff race this year. If Dallas can sweep them again, it will go a long way for their playoff push.
Eli Manning will be attempting to polish off his legacy after an abysmal season, and Tom Coughlin may be coaching for his job. This game is always a good time.
Week Eight: vs. Redskins 10/27
The Cowboys continue their home-heavy first half on a Monday night against the Redskins. This team is also tough to figure out–can Jay Gruden accomplish a Chip Kelly-like turnaround for this team?
The Redskins certainly have some new pieces to play with in Jason Hatcher and DeSean Jackson, but I doubt that’s enough to catapult them to the top of the East. It might be enough for them to split this season series, however.
Week Nine: vs. Cardinals 11/2
Last year the Cardinals were probably the best team not included in the postseason, and they’ll be angry throughout this campaign. But by Week 9 it might just be the healthier team that walks away with this one.
These teams haven’t played since 2011, but luck has not been on Dallas’s side in this series as of late. Remember the whole Jason-Garrett-icing-his-own-kicker fiasco? Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again.
Week Ten: at Jaguars (London) 11/9
“I say, Charles, what a lovely day! Why don’t we have a spot of tea and then attend that smashing ruggers match down at Wembley?”
“Capitol idea, my dear Watson.”
. . . or something like that. I can’t tell if this is a win-win or a lose-lose for the Cowboys, but a victory in London is to be expected here.
Week Twelve: at Giants 11/23
Coming off the bye, the Cowboys will start making up for all those early-season home games with this New Jersey clash with the Giants.
The ‘Boys will still have plenty of time to improve–or worsen–their chances of winning the East, and taking down their division foes on the road will be huge.
Week Thirteen: vs. Eagles 11/27
Will Cowboys fans have another victory to be thankful for this year? This will be only the second time Dallas has played Philly on Thanksgiving, the first being a loss in 1989.
Chip Kelly has a lot to prove this year coming off the playoff berth, especially after showing D-Jax the door.
Obviously he wants things done his way, but is his way the best?
Week Fourteen: at Bears 12/4
There’s no rest for the weary as the Cowboys will play their second consecutive Thursday game in Chicago, a team that handily beat the Cowboys last year with a backup QB.
The Bears aren’t any worse after this offseason, and will likely have a lot to play for behind a healthy Jay Cutler. How will the ‘Boys respond?
Week Fifteen: at Eagles 12/14
Hopefully this game will still mean something. Dallas hasn’t lost in Philly since 2011, and it would be nice to see them continue the streak this year.
It’s always interesting to see how the Cowboys perform in December. After a couple of years of competence, December 2013 did not go well for Dallas. Like, at all. If the team wants to change its late-season fortunes, this game would be a great place to start.
Week Sixteen: vs. Colts 12/21
This could very well become the most compelling matchup of the season. Of course Andrew Luck and the Colts will be favored and likely on their way to an easy playoff berth atop the AFC South, but Indianapolis benefits, perhaps too much, from its soft divisional schedule. The Cowboys will be eager to make a statement here.
It will take a few wins like this for the NFC East to begin to reestablish itself after years of mediocrity.
Week Seventeen: at Redskins 12/28
Could it be? Could it really come down, one more time, to a de facto NFC East championship game?
My gut says that the Redskins won’t be the ones competing for the division, but RG3 should never be counted out. This could be the game that determines Jason Garrett’s future and sets the tone for Jay Gruden’s tenure in the capital. It’s tough to predict such significance right now, but it’s been true for three straight seasons and it could be true again.
It’s hard not to look at this schedule and see 8-8 written all over it, maybe 9-7 to the optimistic. But the NFC East looks to be wide open again, and with this schedule, there’s no good reason the Cowboys won’t be the ones to take it.
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