The Dallas Cowboys are looking to become the first NFC East team in over a decade to win back-to-back division titles. But doing so is much easier said than done, as their schedule this season is much more difficult than it was last year.
While both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott look to build off of promising rookie campaigns, the Cowboys’ defense, which faced a lot of turnover this offseason, will need to hold their own weight in order for Dallas to return to the postseason. First-round pick Taco Charlton should improve the Cowboys’ pass rushing unit a little bit, which is the team’s biggest weakness heading into 2017.
Here’s a game-by-game prediction of how the 2017 season could go for the Cowboys:
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10 vs. New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas finished with a 13-3 record last season, but two of those losses were to the Giants. Prescott and Elliott will have some extra motivation in this game to get their first career win against New York, sending a statement to their division rivals right out of the gate.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17 at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m. ET
Had Tony Romo signed with the Broncos this offseason, this game would’ve had much more significance. However, there is still an intriguing storyline in this game if you dig a little bit. In last year’s draft, the Cowboys tried to trade back into the first round to select Paxton Lynch, but Denver beat them to it. Dallas ended up hitting the jackpot with Prescott later on in the fourth round. Dak will once again prove why he was the best quarterback in his draft class.
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 25 at Arizona Cardinals, 8:30 p.m. ET
Weird things happen when Dallas travels to Arizona. The past three times the Cowboys have played in University of Phoenix Stadium, they lost two games in overtime and once after missing a 19-yard extra point. Something strange should happen again in this game, but it should be in Dallas’ favor this time around.
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1 vs. Los Angeles Rams, 1 p.m. ET
Elliott grew up in St. Louis, the place the Rams formerly called home. In the past, the Cowboys had no problem running the ball down their throat, as DeMarco Murray delivered 253-yard and 175-yard games against them in 2011 and 2013. Now that Wade Phillips is the defensive coordinator for Los Angeles, will he be able to neutralize Zeke? Even if he does, Prescott should have no issue leading his team to their fourth straight victory.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m. ET
In January, the Cowboys lost a heartbreaker to the Packers in the divisional round, ending their magical season prematurely. Blame this one on Aaron Rodgers and his completion to Jared Cook on third-and-long. But now, Rodgers has Martellus Bennett to throw to, which should give Dallas’ suspect defense even more headaches.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Oct. 22 at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m. ET
The last time these teams clashed, San Francisco took a 14-0 lead after two series, but it was the Cowboys who walked away victorious 24-17. The 49ers are rebuilding right now, meaning it will take time before they can compete against playoff caliber teams.
Week 8: Oct. 29 at Washington Redskins, 4:25 p.m. ET
The last time Zeke traveled to Fed Ex Field, he had a forgettable day, fumbling twice and getting benched in the fourth quarter. With a year of experience now under his belt, Elliott won’t cough up the ball and will rush for over 100 yards as Dallas picks up a key win against an NFC East rival.
Week 9: Nov. 5 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. ET
There’s a possibly Romo, who is the Cowboys franchise leader in touchdown passes and passing yards, will be broadcasting this game for CBS. With a 6-1 record, the Cowboys are confident, but the Chiefs are a formidable opponent and will present problems for Dallas on both sides of the ball.
Week 10: Nov. 12 at Atlanta Falcons, 4:25 p.m. ET
Ideally, Dallas would’ve liked to have played Atlanta in the NFC title game last season, but they’ll have to settle for this game at the Falcons’ brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are known for picking apart defenses, and should have a field day against a Dallas defense that has too many unknowns in the secondary and pass rush.
Week 11: Nov. 19 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 8:30 p.m. ET
Prescott struggled in his only full game against Philadelphia last year, but found his rhythm in the fourth quarter and overtime, eventually leading his team to a win. He’ll have a much better game this time around, but former Eagle Nolan Carroll will make the game-clinching play as Dallas snaps their two-game losing streak.
Week 12: Nov. 23 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 4:40 p.m. ET
At one point in his career, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was a Cowboys assistant under Bill Parcells. Although he has made a name for himself in the coaching department, the Cowboys are a better team than the Chargers and it will show very early in this game, spoiling Lynn’s homecoming. Since this game will be on CBS, expect Romo to be broadcasting as well.
Week 13: Nov. 30 vs. Washington Redskins, 8:25 p.m. ET
This game will be another opportunity for Dez Bryant and Josh Norman to go head-to-head against each other. Regardless of whether Norman can shut down Bryant or not, the Cowboys will still have too many weapons on offense for the Redskins to account for.
Week 14: Dec. 10 at New York Giants, 4:25 p.m. ET
This game will be crucial for both Dallas and New York, and will have a colossal impact on who wins the NFC East in 2017. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the Giants’ defense delivers a rock-solid performance on their home field, leading them to a victory.
Week 15: Dec. 17 at Oakland Raiders, 7:30 p.m. ET
After suffering a soul-crushing loss to the Giants a week prior, the Cowboys put the rest of the NFL on notice by handing the heavily-favored Raiders a loss in a shootout as Prescott outplays Derek Carr.
Week 16: Dec. 24 vs. Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. ET
Dallas is really good at protecting the football and moving the chains with the run game, which helped them win 13 games last season. On the other hand, Seattle is great at creating turnovers and stuffing the run. Seattle wins this one in a low-scoring affair.
Week 17: at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET
New York will take care of business against Washington, meaning the Cowboys must win this game in order to clinch the NFC East and the No. 3 seed. Philadelphia is out of the playoff race at this point, but they spoil the Cowboys’ hopes of winning back-to-back division titles in a thriller.
Projected NFC East Standings:
- New York Giants 11-5
- Dallas Cowboys 10-6
- Philadelphia Eagles 8-8
- Washington Redskins 7-9
Projected NFC Playoff Seeds:
- Green Bay Packers (North, 12-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (West, 12-4)
- New York Giants (East, 11-5)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South, 10-6)
- Atlanta Falcons (Wild Card, 10-6)
- Dallas Cowboys (Wild Card, 10-6)
NFC Playoff Seeding Tie-Breaker Notes:
- Green Bay (No. 1) finished ahead of Seattle (No. 2) based on head-to-head victory.
- Tampa Bay (No. 4) clinched the NFC South division title over Atlanta (No. 5) based on better record vs. conference opponents.
- Atlanta (No. 5) finished ahead of Dallas (No. 6) based on head-to-head victory.
Projected Playoff Finish: Eliminated by New York Giants in Wild Card round.
Watching Dallas get the boot in the first round of the playoffs by an NFC East rival will prove to be a sobering experience for Cowboys fans. All losses in the postseason hurt, but when they come from your division rival, they’re even more gut-wrenching. However, if Dallas can further improve their defense by making the right moves in free agency and the draft, they could shock the world and make an appearance in Super Bowl LIII.