Dallas Cowboys: Analyzing the 2018 Schedule

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys takes the field prior to their NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 22, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Jason Garrett of the Dallas Cowboys takes the field prior to their NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 22, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The NFL Schedule was released Thursday evening and Dallas’ schedule features plenty of exciting matchups

The Cowboys will open the season on the road for the first time since 2012 against the Carolina Panthers.  The schedule includes five primetime games (three appearances on Sunday Night Football, one appearance on Monday Night Football, one appearance on Thursday Night Football).

The traditional Thanksgiving Game will be against the Washington Redskins for the second time in three seasons.

Week 1: at Carolina Panthers on Sunday Sept. 9 at 4:25 p.m. ET

Week 2: vs. New York Giants on Sunday Sept. 16 at 8:20 p.m. ET

Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Sept. 23 at 4:25 p.m. ET

Week 4: vs. Detroit Lions on Sunday Sept. 30 at 1 p.m. ET

Week 5: at Houston Texans on Sunday Oct. 7 at 8:20 p.m. ET

Week 6: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday Oct. 14 at 4:25 p.m. ET

Week 7: at Washington Redskins on Sunday Oct. 21 at 4:25 p.m. ET

Week 8: BYE

Week 9: vs. Tennessee Titans on Monday Nov. 5 at 8:15 p.m. ET

Week 10: at Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Nov. 11 at 8:20 p.m. ET

Week 11: at Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. ET

Week 12: vs. Washington Redskins on Thursday Nov. 22 at 4:30 p.m. ET

Week 13: vs. New Orleans Saints on Thursday Nov. 29 at 8:20 p.m. ET

Week 14: vs. Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Dec. 9 at 4:25 p.m. ET

Week 15: at Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. ET

Week 16: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Dec. 23 at 1 p.m. ET

Week 17: at New York Giants on Sunday Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. ET

The path back to the playoffs will not be an easy one as Dallas faces the toughest schedule in the league (2017 Schedule Winning Percentage). 

The Cowboys face six playoff teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.  They’ll also face the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks who finished with winning records in 2017.

There are several key matchups on the schedule which will play a major role in the success of the 2018 Dallas Cowboys.  The Seattle Seahawks put the Cowboys out of their misery last season with a brutal 21-12 win over Dallas on Christmas Eve.  The Cowboys can send an early season message in Week 3 as they travel to Seattle to face Russell Wilson’s Seahawks.

The Jacksonville Jaguars come to town for a Week 6 matchup.  Coming off an AFC Championship appearance, “Sacksonville” boasts arguably the top defense in the league which will surely test the Cowboys offense.

The Cowboys will travel to the City of Brotherly Love in Week 10 to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.  This will be the first meeting between the Super Bowl Champions and Dallas in 2018.

The Eagles demolished the Cowboys 37-9 in their meaningful meeting at AT&T Stadium last season so this will Dallas’ opportunity to avenge that loss.  Carson Wentz will more than likely be healthy after tearing his ACL so this should make for a great primetime game.

The Cowboys will play three straight at home during weeks 12-14 against Washington, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.  This will begin the home stretch and a possible run to the playoffs.

Whether or not Dallas improves from 2017 will a deciding factor of playoff contention

A big part of season-long success is performing in clutch situations and a little bit of luck.  The Cowboys were 2-2 in one possession games in 2017. Since there are plenty of good teams on the schedule, there will likely be several close games played.  Dallas needs to be able to win the majority in 2018.

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The best way to win football games is to not let the other team score.  However, very few teams have a defense who can shut down the opposing offense for entire games.  Although, teams like Dallas can just play keep away. The Cowboys should look to improve their average time of possession.  They were 12th in the NFL in 2017 in average time of possession, controlling the ball for an average of 30:12 a game.

Keeping the opposing offense off the field all while resting the defense increases the likelihood of winning the ballgame.  Sustaining long drives raises the chances of ending the drive with points. In order to do that they must keep up their 2017 pace converting on 3rd down.  Dallas was 6th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion rate in 2017, converting a little over 42% of the time.

Several players on the Cowboys need to take a step forward this year

The young secondary should thrive under new coach Kris RichardEzekiel Elliott playing a full season with a chip on his shoulder will motivate him to dominate like his 2016 season.  The most important player who needs to step up for a successful 2018 season is Dak Prescott.  Prescott needs to show the world that the Cowboys are his team.  After a down year in 2017, he can return to his Rookie of the Year form with a healthy squad around him and lead the Cowboys back to the postseason.

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I predict the Cowboys finishing 2018 with an 11-5 record and a likely playoff berth.  I believe this team is capable of finishing at least 4-2 against the division, 3-1 against their AFC opponents and 4-2 against the rest of Conference play.  Despite what happened last season and what seems to be a quiet offseason, the Cowboys are not that far away from playoff contention and potentially making a run.