The Cowboys play in the NFC East, but there’s definitely a Southern feel to their 2018 schedule. Dallas will face all the teams from the NFC and AFC South, adding five 2017 playoff teams to the slate in addition to Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia twice.
The combined record of the Cowboys’ opponents is exactly .500, at 128-128 last season, putting them in the middle of the pack in unadjusted strength of schedule. Here’s breaking down Dallas’ schedule this year and what it means for the team’s chances of making the playoffs for the third time in five seasons.
Another highlight game is versus the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, the second time in three years for that match-up.
Here’s a full analysis of the schedule with way-too-early game predictions. For now, we’ve got the Cowboys finishing strong and going 9-7 again. The question is whether that’ll be enough to get them back in the playoffs. Time will tell.
Week 1 (Sept. 9) at Carolina (3:30 p.m. FOX): The Cowboys will take the field for the first time without Dez Bryant. At least the Panthers had a middle-of-the-road secondary unit last season, but Cam Newton will give the Cowboys’ defense fits.
Week 2 (Sept. 16) vs. New York Giants (7:20 p.m. NBC): The Giants have the No. 2 overall pick and could use it on the top running back prospect, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who could revive a stagnate offense. So could former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. But the Cowboys win their home opener.
Prediction: Win (1-1)
Week 3 (Sept. 23) at Seattle (3:25 p.m. FOX): The Seahawks are in a remodeling mode, at least defensively, but still have the hard-to-contain Russell Wilson at quarterback. The Seahawks got the best of the Cowboys last season, and that continues into 2018.
Prediction: Loss (1-2)
Week 4 (Sept. 30) vs. Detroit (noon FOX): Will new coach Matt Patricia have the Lions defense playing at a higher level? You can already pencil Matt Stafford in for another 4,000-yard season, but give the Cowboys the edge here.
Prediction: Win (2-2)
Week 5 (Oct. 7) at Houston (7:20 p.m. NBC): Deshaun Watson looked like the real deal last season before an ACL injury. Oh, and the Texans still have a guy named J.J. Watt, who has endured two consecutive injury-plagued seasons. This has the makings of a loss.
Prediction: Loss (2-3)
Week 6 (Oct. 14) vs. Jacksonville (3:25 p.m. CBS): The Jaguars have suddenly become Super Bowl contenders with a top-notch defense, but Blake Bortles remains a mystery. Still, that defense is hard to ignore.
Prediction: Loss (2-4)
Week 7 (Oct. 21) at Washington (3:25 p.m. CBS): The Cowboys get their first look at the Redskins with quarterback Alex Smith, who is dismissively called a “game manager.” That bodes well for the Cowboys to get back on track in the nation’s capital.
Prediction: Win (3-4)
Week 8: Bye
Week 9 (Nov. 5 Monday Night Football) vs. Tennessee (7:15 p.m. ESPN): Mike Vrabel inherited a playoff team from last season, but quarterback Marcus Mariota is coming off a season in which he had more interceptions than touchdowns. The Cowboys get to the .500 mark at the halfway point.
Prediction: Win (4-4)
Week 10 (Nov. 11) at Philadelphia (7:20 p.m. NBC): The defending Super Bowl champs will be eager to show off their rings to the Cowboys on this night. This won’t be a memorable night for the Cowboys.
Prediction: Loss (4-5)
Week 11 (Nov. 18) at Atlanta (noon FOX): Fortunately for the Cowboys, Adrian Clayborn is headed to the Patriots and won’t be able to torment Chaz Green again. But the Falcons still have a guy named Matt Ryan.
Prediction: Loss (4-6)
Week 12 (Nov. 22) vs. Washington (3:30 p.m. FOX): A Thanksgiving Day match-up against a division rival is always entertaining. The Cowboys won this game two years ago, 31-26, and need to win again to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Prediction: Win (5-6)
Week 13 (Nov. 29) vs. New Orleans (7:20 p.m. FOX/ NFL Network): Drew Brees is 5-3 in his career against the Cowboys, but lost the last time he visited AT&T Stadium (Sept. 28, 2014). He’ll find himself on the losing end again against a desperate Cowboys squad.
Prediction: Win (6-6)
Week 14 (Dec. 9) vs. Philadelphia (3:25 p.m. FOX): It seems like the Eagles and Cowboys always play a thriller in Texas and this time should be no different. But the Eagles prevail and sweep the Cowboys for the first time since 2011.
Prediction: Loss (6-7)
Week 15 (Dec. 16) at Indianapolis (noon FOX): This game won’t be on the level of Super Bowl V, but the Cowboys should have a good understanding of what new Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus (the Cowboys’ linebackers coach from 2011-17) is trying to do.
Prediction: Win (7-7)
Week 16 (Dec. 23) vs. Tampa Bay (noon FOX): What’s a nice early Christmas gift? Facing a team like the Bucs, who ranked last in total defense in 2017.
Prediction: Win (8-7)
Week 17 (Dec. 30) at New York Giants (noon FOX): The Cowboys had a successful trip last December to MetLife Stadium, rolling to a 30-10 victory. This December they hope it clinches a playoff berth.
Prediction: Win (9-7)
Strength of schedule
Dallas plays six teams that made the playoffs in 2017. The winning percentage for the Cowboys’ 2018 opponents this past season was a very even 50.4%. That puts the Cowboys right in the middle of the league for strength of schedule, tied for 15th.
The Cowboys face a tougher schedule at home than they do on the road, which is probably how you want it. The away opponents “only” combine for a 61-67 record (.477 strength of schedule) while the home opponents combine for a 67-61 record (.523 strength of schedule).
Cowboys opponents 2019
Home: NY Giants, Philadelphia, Washington, Green Bay, Minnesota, Buffalo, Miami, NFC West
Away: NY Giants, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, New England, NY Jets, NFC South