The stakes are just higher in the NFL. A 16 game regular season, just by a number of games alone ratchets up the importance of each contest.
In no other professional sport is 1/16th of your season on the line each week. One NFL game carries the same weight on a team’s win-loss record as roughly 5 NBA games, or 10 MLB games.
Ideally, each team would love to get as many games tucked safely away into the win column as early as possible, to widen the margin for error down the stretch. The NFL scheduling Gods have blessed the Cowboys with a great opportunity to get a lot of “the hay into the barn” as some of our elders might say.
Every NFL team is comprised of the best athletes in the world. “Gimmies” are a myth, but looking at things objectively, there certainly are games that a team knows they should be able to win. The Dallas Cowboys open the 2019 season with three very manageable games, featuring some favorable matchups for the Cowboys defense in particular.
The schedule begins as so…
Sept. 8th, vs. New York Giants
Sept. 15th @ Washington Redskins
Sept. 22nd vs. Miami Dolphins
The Cowboys will be almost undoubtedly favored in each contest and stand little chance to suffer a defeat with an “A-Game” type of performance. The Cowboys defense especially can pretty much prevent any of these games from becoming much of a fight.
Week 1: vs New York Giants
Yes, it is at least possible that Giants ace running back Saquon Barkley could run rampant for 200+ yards and lead his team to victory as Cowboys obsessed ESPN analyst Cris Carter has suggested. However, Barkley ran 11 times for 28 yards when the two teams last met in 2018’s season finale. Since that game, the Giants have taken steps to patch up what last season was a substandard offensive line, but have been absolutely decimated at wide receiver. Golden Tate is serving a suspension, Corey Coleman is out for the season with a torn ACL, and Sterling Shepard will give it a go, but with a fractured thumb.
This game smells like coverage sacks, and eyes-half-closed, rushed Eli Manning heaves. If the defense tackles well and doesn’t allow Barkley to compile highlight footage, they ought to be able to hold this group in check. If the offense has even a par-for-the-course performance, this should be one for the win column.
Week 2: @ Washington Redskins
It’s never wise to assume a division road game is in the bag before it’s played, and weird things happen in Washington. The Redskins, however, will roll out a placeholder quarterback (Case Keenum), a rushing committee comprised of an overaged Adrian Peterson, and a recovering (ACL) Derrius Guice with neophytes (talented, but green nonetheless) on the perimeter.
But wait, there’s more.
With all-world left tackle Trent Williams a holdout, the Redskins will feature a left-side tandem of Donald Penn at LT and Ereck Flowers at LG. Penn’s best days are far behind him, and Flowers, who proved to be sub-NFL caliber at tackle, will be getting his first regular-season action at a brand new position. A very deep and talented Cowboys defensive line group ought to be able to absolutely wreck this game in the trenches. Getting pressure with 4 should be no issue while the best Cowboys secondary in a while clutters the picture downfield for Keenum. A big game from the offense should not be required here, but that would be fun too.
Week 3: vs Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins seem to be in a bit of a state of controlled demolition, or attempting a soft reboot at the very least. Miami is also in a quagmire at quarterback, and not exactly because both guys have been setting training camp on fire and the team can’t decide. Neither guy has done a lot to claim a firm grip on the starting job. Josh Rosen is inexperienced, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is Ryan Fitzpatrick.
WR Kenny Stills is an excellent player, and RB Kenyan Drake is a threat to score on any touch. After that, the Dolphins offense doesn’t present a multitude of threats. Slot player Jakeem Grant is dangerous but has just 34 career receptions to his name. WRs DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson are just guys, and TE Mike Gesicki was barely a factor as a rookie last season.
The Dolphins offensive line is actually anchored by a very good left tackle in Laremy Tunsil. This unit though did surrender 52 sacks in 2018 and may have a pair of rookie starters at both guard spots (Michael Dieter, Shaq Calhoun) when the team heads to Dallas. A bit of a broken record here, but the Cowboys’ defensive line can really eat, and have a big hand in the outcome here.
Historically speaking, (since 1980) teams who start the season 3-0 have made the playoffs 75.7% of the time. It’s unclear how much historical numbers really matter here, but it can’t hurt to come out on the positive side of that equation.
If Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout continues through these three games, a 3-0 start would also give the Cowboys 7 straight victories in Zeke-less games, for those scoring at home.
It is imperative that the Cowboys beat the teams on the field that they have beaten on paper early on. After a perceived soft 3 game stretch to open the year, things get real pretty quickly for the Cowboys. A Week 4 trip to New Orleans and a Week 5 home tango with the Packers await immediately after. Late November/ early December is an absolute gauntlet for the Cowboys. In a 5 game stretch, the Cowboys will see the Patriots, Bears, Rams, and Eagles, with the “easy” game being a home date with Buffalo off a short 4 game Thanksgiving turnaround.
The Cowboys need to take advantage of an opportunity to get off to a fast start in 2019, as the schedule at least now looks like a slugfest down the stretch. Getting some “hay into the barn” early could be the team’s saving grace come December.