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Quirks in newly released NFL schedule could provide roadblocks for Cowboys

Despite a potentially easy ride in terms of strength of schedule, the fresh NFL slate has some oddities that are unkind to the Dallas Cowboys.

DALLAS — One of the biggest days of the NFL offseason has come and gone as the 2021 schedule has been released. All of the conversation about what each matchup in the 17-game slate will mean for the Dallas Cowboys can now commence. Fans and pundits alike will spend the immediate future breaking down where the ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ will come from in 2021.

The reality is, despite the buildup, there are very few surprises in the release of the schedule. We’ve known for months who Dallas’ opponents were, we just received the order and times for those games. However, breaking down the schedule is a nice change of pace to the long NFL offseason and it gets the anticipation going for the upcoming year.

At first glance, the Cowboys don’t have a difficult path this season and the numbers bear that out. According to last year’s winning percentage – which we know isn’t always an indicator for how good a team will be in the coming year – Dallas has the second easiest schedule in the NFL.

But beyond the quality of opponents, the league did the Cowboys no favors with some of the scheduling. The team opens against the Super Bowl champs on the road to kickoff the NFL season, and then Dallas travels again for a Week 2 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers on the opposite side of the country.

Going on the road for the first few weeks of the season happens all the time, but usually the league grants a benefit for that team with a home game to end the year. That is not the case for the Cowboys, who end their schedule with four of their final six games on the road, including a trip to Philadelphia to face the rival Eagles in the last week of the season.

Aside from the oddities at the beginning and end of the season, there are some other things to notice about the schedule. While playing the champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a tough test early, the Cowboys only play three teams that had a winning record last year. After their season opener, Dallas doesn’t play a winning team from 2020 until the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11.

The team also has three consecutive home games after the back-to-back road games to begin the season. That string concludes with a Week 5 home tilt against the New York Giants, which is ironically the exact same week and place where quarterback Dak Prescott got hurt last year.

The schedule puts Dallas on the road for three straight games to begin their December slate. That’s a rough stretch that includes two divisional opponents, the Giants and the Washington Football Team.

In another peculiarity, all but one of the Cowboys’ home games include instances of consecutive games at home. Dallas will have three instances where they play at AT&T Stadium for multiple weeks in a row, with the one exception being their Thanksgiving matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Dallas itinerary winds up looking more like a baseball schedule where they’ll be on the road or at home for an extended period for most of the season.

To no one’s surprise, however, Dallas will be showcased in six primetime games this season. As one of the league’s most prominent franchises, America’s Team will play in three Thursday games. The Cowboys open the season on a Thursday night, play their traditional Thanksgiving game and then go on the road to play the Drew Brees-less New Orleans Saints the Thursday after turkey day.

Dallas also has two Sunday Night Football contests and one Monday Night game on the schedule.

Another thing to notice about the schedule for Mike McCarthy’s team is that it’s back-loaded with NFC East opponents, which can be a deciding factor for which team ends up claiming the division title.

Dallas will play four of their last five games against their rivals, with two matchups against Washington in a three-week span. These games could determine the fate of the Cowboys’ season, especially if only the East division winner claims a playoff spot again.

Overall, it doesn’t seem like a daunting schedule, but the road games being clumped as they are could play a factor for the Cowboys. One bonus for Dallas is they don’t appear to play more than a handful of games against elite quarterbacks, which is usually the sign of a difficult road.

Record predictions are silly, especially in May, but the 2021 Dallas Cowboys should be able to win at least 10 games on their schedule. There are too many factors between now and the start of the season to know if that will happen, but the Cowboys will be expected to compete for the postseason.

Now that the NFL schedule has been released, how many wins do you think the Cowboys will achieve in 2021? Share your predictions with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.

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