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First five games can instantly validate contender status for Cowboys

The NFL didn’t go easy on the Dallas Cowboys in the opening weeks of the recently released schedule but the early difficulty could leave them battle-hardened.

DALLAS — The concept of playing a "first-place schedule" in the NFL is somewhat of a misnomer. Aside from the Dallas Cowboys playing the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will take on many of the same opponents as the rest of their NFC East rivals.

However, the placement of the Cowboys' same-place finishers is what makes their first five games challenging, and those games will immediately shed light on whether the 2022 squad is a contender or not.

The action gets started off Week 1 on Sunday Night Football with Tom Brady and the Bucs visiting AT&T Stadium. Dallas has never beaten Brady — a resounding 0-6 since 2003. Most fans wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys started 0-1.

Week 2 is another home game for Dallas, but the schedule makers did them no favors with the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals stopping by Arlington for a 3:25 p.m. CT kickoff. Spectators will get to answer the question of what would have happened had the Cowboys made Super Bowl LVI instead of the host city Rams.

Dallas opens their NFC East slate against the rebuilding New York Giants, but the tilt is on the road on a Monday night in Week 3.

Coming off six days' rest, the Cowboys host Washington with their new quarterback, Carson Wentz, in a noontime kickoff for Week 4.

Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters on May 13 that he liked the first four games of the schedule.

“I think the thing that I’ve always looked at is really the first four games," McCarthy said. "I like the fact that the first two are at home. Then you have your first division game at home, too. So, I really like the start of it."

Week 5 will have the Cowboys initiate a back-to-back road trip that has them touching both coasts: first in Los Angeles and then the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6.

Dallas gets to face the past two Super Bowl teams in the first five weeks. If the Cowboys drop both games, even if they win the others, their above-500 record will be tainted with the "yeah, but" that the team can't beat better teams; that they are only the product of being the best team in a sorry division.

Perhaps if the Cowboys beat the Rams and Bengals, but none of the other teams, it could show how tough the rest of the division is and that Brady still has the Cowboys' number.

No matter the results, the overreaction will be out in force early given the mettle of the Cowboys' opponents. Heading into the Week 6 Sunday nighter at Philadelphia, the Cowboys will either be seen as contenders or a team in trail position to repeat as NFC East champions.

What do you think will be the Cowboys’ record after their tough opening slate? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.

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