By Mike Crum
Dallas Cowboys Team Analyst and Co-Host of the Across The Cowboys Podcast
I want to start by saying that if you are one of those people who typically look down your favorite team's schedule, and you forecast what games will be wins or losses solely based upon the opponent's record last season, or whether it's a home or away game, then what you are about to read is going to be a new experience for you. Better buckle up. Too many things change year-to-year for that to work in the modern NFL. Strength of schedule is almost unusable now. Remember that the San Francisco 49ers were 4-12 one year and in the Super Bowl the next. I'm doing things a little differently. Keep that in mind as we take a look at the newly released Dallas Cowboys 2020 schedule.
Week 1 at the Los Angeles Rams
Opening night for the Dallas Cowboys is not ideal for multiple reasons. The Rams will be opening SoFi Stadium, and this will obviously add a little bump to their motivation as the crowd will be even more hyped than they would for a typical home opener. The Cowboys will be facing "The Boy Genius," Sean McVay, with a whole offseason to prepare. Not to mention that these two teams are very similar to one another, and those parallels will only help the Rams to be better prepped. The Cowboys will be bringing a very average secondary to the table, ready to be attacked, and a LG/C combo likely not ready to handle Aaron Donald up front. Add to this that the Rams got waxed by the Cowboys last year and this sets up poorly for the Boys in the opener.
However, it's not all bad here in this matchup, as the Cowboys will also be looking to come into a brand new stadium and leave their mark. The Rams aren't a juggernaut defensively and the Cowboys will be bringing a plethora of weapons to the table, including their new stud rookie WR, CeeDee Lamb. Also, they'll be unveiling a new offensive-minded head coach in Mike McCarthy, who could have some wrinkles ready for offensive coordinator Kellen Moore's system from last season. Add to this a completely new defensive scheme that Jared Goff and McVay will have very little tape on and it's possible this could lead to Goff making mistakes and the Cowboys being able to win an early road game.
At first glance, this leans slightly towards a loss for Dallas and I'm going to stick with that projection, 0-1.
Week 2 vs the Atlanta Falcons
Week two has more of an even feel to it momentum-wise. This is the Cowboys home opener, the Falcons look weak at DB - especially at CB - and the DT spot lacks much beyond Grady Jarrett. Facing the Seattle Seahawks in week one will take a toll on them too, because that will be a very physical contest. That has been the trend under Pete Carroll, and as a consequence, teams have poor records in the games after playing against the Seahawks.
I can see Kellen Moore going at them through the air early with play-action passes using the wide array of weapons in the passing game, and then riding Ezekiel Elliott to the punishing finish. Now, the Cowboys will be coming off a short week and the Falcons receiving core has a favorable match up vs the Cowboys' DBs, but if Dallas can move the ball as expected and control the clock, then they can make the Falcons one dimensional and pull off a comfortable victory in the home opener. I expect the Cowboys to split these opening two games one way or another to go 1-1.
Week 3 at the Seattle Seahawks The Cowboys match up uniquely well vs the Seahawks. This game is almost always a coin flip and it’s one of those that is too close to call. That said, my whole purpose here today is to do a projection of Dallas' record based on a schedule breakdown, so I have to weigh the pluses and minuses and make a decision.
On the Cowboys' side, Seattle plays on Sunday night the week prior, so they have a short week to prepare. On the Seahawks' side, the Cowboys are making their second west coast trip in three weeks, and although Seattle is on a short week, they played at home so they did not have to travel. I’m gonna be objective and give the Seahawks a tough home win... even if my heart isn’t into it. After three weeks of football, the Cowboys will be 1-2.
Week 4 vs the Cleveland Browns Not much of a schedule advantage here. This game should be straight up, so this is where you can go to more of a default matchup. The Cowboys will get the same "after Seahawks" effect the Falcons got in week two, and I don’t love the Cowboys' DBs vs the Browns' WRs. I’m giving the advantage to the home team though. Another major factor is simply figuring out who has the better QB. Honestly, this game and the Seattle game could easily be flipped, the same way the first two could, but I believe that Dallas will get back to .500 again and get through this tough first quarter of the schedule at 2-2.
Week 5 vs the New York Giants
This is a rough game for the Giants. In week four they have to travel across the country to play the Rams in L.A., then travel to Dallas for the Cowboys' first division game of the year. The Cowboys get to sit home and prepare for a team they match up very well against. This is one of those must-have games on the schedule and I think the Cowboys will get it done and get above .500 at 3-2.
Week 6 vs the Arizona Cardinals This is a classic trap game. Third straight home game, vs an opponent who doesn’t flash when you look up and down the schedule because they haven’t won a lot lately. Adding to that is the fact that the next two weeks are road division games, and every NFL team understands how significant those games are to the success or failure of their season. With our DBs vs the Cardinals' wide receiver core, plus their air raid passing system, Dallas simply cannot just show up and think it’ll be an easy win. However, I think they take care of business and improve to 4-2.
Week 7 at the Washington Redskins Sneaky tough game here. This will be Dallas' first road game in a month, as well as the first divisional road game of the season. Conversely, this will be Washington's third home game in four weeks and the Cowboys might get caught peeking ahead to the matchup in Philadelphia next week. Beyond all the schedule issues, this matchup is also tough. The Cowboys' interior offensive line will have trouble with Washington's defensive tackle trio of Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis. Likewise, Dallas' two tackles will have their hands full having to deal with Chase Young, Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan off the edge. I do believe Dak finds away to outscore Dwayne Haskins in a brutal war. This game will take its toll, but the Cowboys will prevail, advancing their record to 5-2.
Week 8 at the Philadelphia Eagles This game is the first really tough game the 2020 season. I can’t really give you any positives here on the Cowboys side. The Eagles not only have two straight home games, but are coming off a Thursday night game, so they will have ten days to prepare for their division rivals. Add to this that the Cowboys are coming off a divisional road game that likely leaves them beat up, coupled by the fact that this will be the second of back-to-back divisional road games. It’s hard to see a route to victory here for Dallas. Eagles win round one, and Dallas slips to 5-3.
Week 9 vs the Pittsburgh Steelers Going back home is a positive here. Additionally, the Cowboys know that their bye is next week so they can let it all hang out knowing they can make adjustments during the off week. Unfortunately, the Steelers are coming off their bye week and will be fresh, while Dallas had back-to-back road games vs division opponents. And, simply put, the Steelers are lead by one of the best head coaches in the NFL, and that matters in big games like this one. Mike Tomlin has amassed a career record of 125-66-1 since he began his career in Pittsburgh in 2007. You don't put that record together without knowing how win road games in the NFL, especially when you've had an extra week to prepare. I think the Steelers get a W in Big D to drop the Cowboys to 5-4.
Week 10 Bye Week
Week 11 at the Minnesota Vikings These are two of the second-tier NFC playoff teams facing off. (The San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints make up the NFC's top tier, with perhaps the revamped Tampa Bay Buccaneers.) This will be a close matchup, but the Vikings come in to this game off of a tough division road game against Chicago, while the Cowboys were off last week after enduring a two-game losing streak. McCarthy is 9-2 off a bye week and both losses were to undefeated teams. I think Cowboys step up to improve to 6-4.
Week 12 vs the Washington Redskins (Thanksgiving) One of the best bets in the NFL is betting against the road team on Thursday night games. Travel cuts down their ability to get ready and I just can’t see Washington coming in and beating he tCowboys on Turkey Day, especially after how the Cowboys were embarrassed on Thanksgiving a year ago by the Bills. Dallas gets a tough division sweep to get to 7-4.
Week 13 at the Baltimore Ravens About this time last year I was going through this exact same exercise with the Cowboys' 2019 schedule. I saw that the Boys had to take a trip to Chicago for a night game in week 14. I instantly predicted a loss for Dallas. I knew this would easily be the toughest game of the 2019 season because that week 14 matchup would be the third game in 12 days, and a road night game in Chicago to boot. Just too much to ask of a team. But it also didn't help that they made Mitch Trubisky look like a hall of famer that night.
This year, that predictably brutal game will be in Baltimore vs the Ravens in week 13. And just like last year, this will be Dallas' third game in 12 days, the last of which will require them to make the trip to Baltimore - already feeling beleaguered - where the Ravens' bruising style of offense awaits them. This is the first loss of the 2020 season that can be directly and wholly attributed to the scheduling itself. It’s a game set up so badly by the schedule that they would likely lose vs any opponent, let alone one as great as the Ravens appear to be. Winning two of the three games in this 12-day stretch would be nothing short of impressive. Falling to 7-5, the Cowboys will prepare to make their playoff push.
Week 14 at the Cincinnati Bengals The Bengals game comes off a much-needed ten days of rest for the Cowboys, and even though this game is the second of back-to-back road games, the Bengals also play in Miami the week before, so both teams will have to deal with an unfavorable travel schedule. If the earlier schedule goes well - say, perhaps, that the Cowboys do beat the Ravens - this could definitely be a trap game considering that next up is the 49ers on Sunday Night Football, followed by the Eagles the week after.
Never underestimate the weather factor playing in Cincinnati in December, but the Cowboys should be in a position to handle business here, thus bumping up their record to 8-5.
Week 15 vs the San Francisco 49ers The 49ers game is straight-up clean. Subtracting the edge Dallas receives from this being a home game, neither team is coming in with any distinct advantages due to the schedule. In the Cowboys' week three contest at Seattle I was faced with a similar situation, and I gave the home team the advantage not unlike most sportsbooks do in games they see as close matchups. I am going to stay consistent here and give the Cowboys the home field edge, which means they'll improve to 9-5 with just two weeks left to play.
Week 16 vs the Philadelphia Eagles The Cowboys come into this likely-enormous game on a short week which we can confidently say is not an ideal situation whenever it occurs. But when the short week is also coming off a very tough matchup vs the 49ers, we can also say with accuracy that the Cowboys will be a beat up and tired bunch. However, they did get to sleep in their own beds in between these two rough games, which is clearly the silver lining on this ominous-looking storm cloud.
The Eagles on the other hand had to travel to the west coast to face the Cardinals in week 15 and will also be playing their third road game in four weeks. This is a clear schedule advantage for the Cowboys, and after losing in Philadelphia earlier this year the Cowboys will come in motivated to get the season split. I see that happening, pushing Dallas' record up to a robust 10-5.
Week 17 at the New York Giants Honestly, by week 17 the Giants might already be prepared to shut down for the winter. Their schedule is brutal and I don’t expect them to be that competitive division-wise. They come in after playing a very tough Ravens team the week prior and with no big schedule advantages the Cowboys just need to avoid a letdown game after a big win vs the Eagles the week prior.
Will the Cowboys still be trying to win the division at this point? Could this game be the difference between earning a playoff bye or having to play next week? There are lots of questions, but I think the Cowboys will end the season on a high note by smacking around the hapless Giants while advancing to 11-5. So that’s how the Dallas Cowboys' 2020 schedule breaks down for me. Predicting how good or bad an NFL team will be is nearly impossible because turnarounds from one season to the next can happen in a blur. We can’t account for injuries or if a player is ready to breakout, but we can study the advantages and disadvantages we see within the schedule itself - travel issues, consecutive home or road games, playing games with very little prep time in between - and have some fun projecting wins and losses.
I got 11-5 for Dallas. How about you?
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