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Patrick’s POV: Week 4 battle against Saints a first real test for Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys are 3-0 but have faced three teams with a combined 1-8 record. The season will begin in earnest for Dallas with a trip to New Orleans.
Credit: AP
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Jourdan Lewis (27) celebrates his interception of a pass by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during the second half of an NFL football game, in Arlington, Texas, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

DALLAS —

A 35-17 Week 1 win over the 1-2 New York Giants got Dallas off on the right foot to start the season. A 31-21 Week 2 win over 0-3 Washington kept the ball rolling against NFC East opponents. A 31-6 blowout victory over the 0-3 Miami Dolphins showed that Dallas could handle their business as big favorites. 

Dallas is now 3-0 to begin a football year for the first time since the 2008 season. But as you have surely noticed, it hasn’t exactly been a murderer's row in terms of opposition that the Dallas Cowboys have had to face so far. The first three games felt more like an appetizer for the main course. After shuffling off three wins in a row by a 17.6 average margin of victory, Dallas now aims its sights at the 2-1, Super Bowl contending New Orleans Saints. 

Over the next four games, Dallas will face three teams that were expected to be contenders for the NFC crown with a meeting against the 0-3 New York Jets sandwiched in between. A Week 5 visit from the Green Bay Packers and a Week 7 trip to Philadelphia to get their first look at the Eagles will be the other two in this stretch that should really give the Cowboys and their fans some sort of idea about who this team is going to be. 

But before they make their way through that gauntlet, it’s time for Dallas’ first matchup against a team with a winning record and one with Super Bowl aspirations. Week 4 will see the Cowboys head down to New Orleans to take on a Saints team that will be looking for retribution for a 13-10 loss against Dallas last season in what was more of a defensive slugfest than many had been expecting it to be. 

A defensive battle is a possibility again as this time around as Drew Brees won’t be under center for the Saints as he required surgery to fix an injured thumb that he sustained in Week 2. However, don’t peg this is an easier contest for Dallas without Brees as New Orleans’ backup QB Teddy Bridgewater is no slouch himself as he most recently led the Saints to a 33-27 victory in Seattle. New Orleans is also notoriously difficult to beat at the Superdome so Dallas will have their work cut out for them.

Should Dallas pass the test against the Saints, they’ll then take on their playoff nemesis when Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay come to Dallas. The Packers ended the Cowboys’ season twice in the postseason since 2014. They are no strangers to one another and both have their sights on the playoffs again in 2019. 

Looking beyond these next four games, the Cowboys play six of their next 11 games against teams who had high hopes going into the year. The Cowboys won’t have an easy overall road that you might expect after their first three opponents, but having this schedule should help the team become battle tested for a playoff run if they remain up to the task. Overall, it was important for the Cowboys to get off to this 3-0 start with a tougher schedule awaiting them. And, of course, they are being helped by the NFC East as a whole stumbling out of the gate.

The team already has a two-game lead in the division this early and that could come into play later this season. Now that the easier part is behind them, Jason Garrett and his staff will have to get Dallas through the tough parts in the final year of their contracts. Not only will this stretch be a make or break moment for the team’s championship hopes, but also will determine who, if any, of these coaches return in 2020. 

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