There are at least three things currently certain in life: death, taxes and the Dallas Cowboys needing to end their Super Bowl drought that is now older than humans who can legally rent a car, and none of those three things are any fun. With the unveiling of their complete NFL schedule in May, all eyes immediately zoom in on the must-see matchups to come this autumn and winter, but there's much more to it all than simply trying to win those five or six games, and that's saying the very least, because the barometer in Dallas reveals a ton of pressure in the air around and inside the walls of Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas.
Having finished with a 12-5 record in 2021 only to be summarily dismissed like a grade school child when the San Francisco 49ers walked into AT&T Stadium and taught them a few lessons in January, it was yet another strong year that ended in disappointment -- putting head coach Mike McCarthy (and others) in some very real crosshairs this offseason. McCarthy's job was never in doubt in January 2022, as CBS Sports first reported, but another failure in the postseason (or failing to make it at all) will immediately usher in reports of him potentially being replaced by either Sean Payton or his own defensive coordinator -- Dan Quinn.
To make matters more difficult for McCarthy, who admitted that while he enjoys being with the club but that he's also frustrated with the "landscape" of coaching the Cowboys -- following comments from owner Jerry Jones that could easily be viewed as pitting Quinn (and other HC candidates) against McCarthy -- is in how the front office opted to trade four-time Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, release starting tackle La'el Collins, lose starting defensive end Randy Gregory to free agency in controversial fashion and very nearly lose All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence as well after a contentious contract disagreement.
But wait, there's more.
The club did next to nothing in outside free agency, and former second-round pick Kelvin Joseph remains on the radar of Dallas Police regarding an ongoing murder investigation. The good news for McCarthy is, the loss of Gregory and Cedrick Wilson Jr. notwithstanding, the Cowboys aced the assignment of re-signing in-house talent. But even with an impressive 2022 NFL draft haul, they're still unable to currently boast a roster that is as potent as the one they wasted in 2021. All of the old must now pass away, though, because it is eyes forward to minicamp, training camp, preseason and then the coup de grâce: the 2022 NFL regular season.
With so much on the line for so many in Dallas, let's take a shot at predicting how it'll all shake out.
20 key schedule observations
There's a lot to dissect when it comes to this year's schedule for the Cowboys, because it's not only packed with challenges, but it's also structured favorably for them in many ways -- from the amount of rest they might see later in the season to the fact they'll enjoy lots of home cooking to begin the season. Factor in where their bye week is placed, and the Cowboys are in great position to trampoline themselves into the conversation for Super Bowl contention.
That said, the things that aren't in their favor really, really aren't, and threaten to make their trek toward January a brutal one. Below are the top-20 most notable items you'll need to takeaway from Dallas' gauntlet of games.
Notes on travel, rest and kickoff times:
- Bye: Week 9
- 5 prime-time games
- 5 games played the first slate on Sundays (1 p.m. ET)
- [Only] two Thursday games, including Thanksgiving
- No back-to-back Thursday games (first time since 2015)
- 2 mini-bye weeks (post-Thanksgiving and post-Week 17)
- 3 home games in first four, back-to-back to begin season
- 5 home games before Week 9 bye week
- 3-game home stretch to begin back end of the season
- No 3-game away stretches
- Cross-country trek from LA to Philly in October
- Back-to-back road games to conclude season
- Potentially no winter weather away games in December (TEN + JAX)
Notes on Cowboys' opposition:
- Matchups with both Super Bowl LVI teams in first five weeks
- Matchups with all three NFC East rivals in first six weeks
- Back-to-back contests against NFC East opponents
- 4-game tour of NFC North before Thanksgiving
- NFC East rematch vs. Giants on Thanksgiving
- Tour of AFC South post-Thanksgiving
- Regular season finale vs. NFC East rival
We touched on what's working in favor of the Cowboys, but that doesn't include facing the Packers, Bucs and Rams before they get a chance to open the cranberry sauce and stuffing in late November -- teams that finished first, second and fourth in the NFC, respectively, in 2021.
These were the teams, along with the Arizona Cardinals, that the Cowboys were desperately trying to shake off in the chase for the top seed in the conference last season before finishing third at 12-5. It's critical for Mike McCarthy and all involved to truly fire out of the gate, because the schedule is frontloaded with NFC bouts that will largely shape the entire playoff picture down the road, so stumbling mightily early will put Dallas in a tough spot; one difficult to climb out of simply by potentially running through presumably lesser teams in the AFC (the schedule is backloaded with AFC matchups).
Here's a peek at the combined 2021 records of all upcoming Cowboys opponents:
|NFC East opponents||Non-division opponents (NFC + AFC)||NFC opponents (non-division)|
A slow start to 2022 could very well lead to either a poor playoff seeding or none at all, if we're being frank here.
Or, hell, even if we're being Shirley.
As is always the case, they'll need to attempt to dominate the NFC East to act as a buffer against some unfortunate losses outside of the division. Equally as important this year (if not a bit more so) will be to get wins against contenders who they might again find themselves jockeying for seeding with when winter arrives. After all, head-to-head games are paramount when determining tiebreakers, and nothing implies the Bucs, Packers and Rams have taken a step backward (the Davante Adams trade notwithstanding). The Cowboys, however, were arguably (not really) made worse on paper this offseason ahead of the draft, so there's much work to be done to ensure there is no brain fog when Sept. 11 rolls around.
Week 1: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Date: Sunday, Sept. 11
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
2021 record: 13-4
Series record: Cowboys lead 15-5
Is it time for the streak to end? Brady is 6-0 against the Cowboys in his Hall of Fame career that spans more than two decades, but that was nearly a 5-1 record, if not for a controversial non-call on DPI and missed field goals by Greg Zuerlein in the 2021 season opener. (However, there's no column between wins and losses labeled "what if?") As the 2022 season gets underway, it's yet another shot for the Cowboys to hand Brady a loss, with the NFL effectively giving them a mulligan by scheduling this matchup as an opener for two consecutive seasons. The GOAT stole headlines by retiring and then quickly unretiring this offseason, the latter being great for the Buccaneers, but Tampa Bay is a little more in flux than it was last September.
Bruce Arians has transitioned from head coach to the front office as Todd Bowles takes the reins, the future of Rob Gronkowski is still undecided, and Ndamukong Suh being out of Tampa gives Dallas one less force to worry about protecting Dak Prescott from.
Additionally, re-signing Chris Godwin was smart by the Bucs, but he's working to return from injury and that could admittedly be a wash when weighed against the unlikelihood of seeing Michael Gallup in this game (as he also rehabs from a season-ending injury suffered in 2021). On the whole, and when considering Brady has been proven to not be invincible (ask the Rams), and with the rematch being at AT&T Stadium, as long as the Cowboys make their field goals, they can take the win in this nail-biter (as they could've a year prior). Both teams have some feeling out to do in Week 1, but home field advantage and the revenge angle gives the Cowboys a W.
Prediction: 28-27, Cowboys
Week 2: Cincinnati Bengals
Date: Sunday, Sept. 18
Location: AT&T Stadium
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2021 record: 10-7
Series record: Cowboys lead 9-4
Riding high off of their season opener over the almighty Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., the Cowboys run face-first into a reality check when the Bengals claw their way into Arlington for Week 2. Hot off of a Super Bowl loss wherein they were literally only one more big play away from hoisting a Lombardi Trophy, you can bet Joe Burrow and head coach Zac Taylor are chomping at the bit to get back to pouncing on the league -- as they did in 2021. Ja'Marr Chase was inhuman as a rookie, and you can expect a similar level of production in Year 2. And unless All-Pro safety Jessie Bates III takes the expensive financial hit and holds out during his contract dispute, expect him to make life very difficult for a Cowboys receiving corps that no longer boasts Cooper and that will likely also be without Gallup for the first couple of games (ish).
The Bengals, having seen their defense finally turn the corner in 2021 from being porous to making plays and getting key stops, are now as well-rounded as they are lethal on offense.
Toss in some added motivation for former Cowboys safety Chidobe Awuzie in his Dallas homecoming, and while Dallas passed its first test -- the opener -- there's a good chance it leave Week 2 with a 1-1 record. That is unless Joseph is truly ready to take the mantle from Anthony Brown, or unless Brown plays this game at an All-Pro level to complement the actual All-Pro in Trevon Diggs and a very capable playmaker in Jourdan Lewis. It just feels as if the Bengals will shock and awe in the first quarter, and the Cowboys will find themselves trying to grab the cat's tail the rest of the game, ultimately failing to get a handle on it.
Prediction: 35-24, Bengals
Weeks 3 & 12: New York Giants
First meeting: Week 3 (MetLife Stadium) - Monday, Sept. 26, 8:15 p.m ET
Second meeting (Thanksgiving): Week 12 (AT&T Stadium) - Thursday, Nov. 24, 4:30 p.m. ET
2021 record: 4-13
Series Record: Cowboys lead 71-47-2
Objectively speaking, which is the best way to speak but rarely done nowadays, you have to admit the Giants are having a very provocative offseason. They parted ways with the decrepit ways of former general manager Dave Gettleman and replaced him with a sharper mind in Joe Schoen, also ousting Joe Judge to make room for a more dynamic head coach and QB whisperer in Brian Daboll, then going on to have a solid offseason worth of acquisitions.
Now, to the other side of the coin, one that's wrought with doubt and enough question marks to make The Riddler jealous, seeing as the Giants are also still the Giants until further notice. Is this to say they haven't improved? No, it is not, because they certainly have, at least on paper, but games aren't played on paper -- unless it's a rousing match of Tic-Tac-Toe.
When it comes to football X's and O's, however, the Cowboys have proven they own the Giants in recent seasons -- to the tune of 9-1 since the conclusion of 2016. The jury is also still out on if Daniel Jones can have a breakout season and if Saquon Barkley can remain healthy, plus you can count James Bradberry and his seven interceptions for the Giants out of this equation entirely. With an extra day to prep for the first matchup and the Giants having to travel to AT&T Stadium for the bout on Thanksgiving, all signs point to Dak Prescott (who owns the 9-1 record against them as a starter, by the way) to use the aid of Dan Quinn's defense to continue steamrolling Big Blue (though you can count on the Giants to put up a fight).
Week 3 prediction: 24-20, Cowboys
Week 12 prediction: 42-24, Cowboys
Weeks 4 & 18: Washington Commanders
First meeting: Week 4 (AT&T Stadium) - Sunday, Oct. 2, 1 p.m ET
Second meeting: Week 18 (FedExField) - Sunday, Jan. 7/8 (TBD), Time TBD
2021 record: 7-10
Series Record: Cowboys lead 75-47-2
Carson Wentz is no stranger to the Cowboys, as the Cowboys are no stranger to Wentz. That doesn't bode well for the Commanders new quarterback, whom they landed via trade with the Indianapolis Colts only one year after the Colts traded with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire him. Wentz has never been a destructive force against Dallas, and that won't change in 2022. Diggs learned quickly how to dial up interceptions against him and has only improved since last facing him, whereas Wentz has done anything but. Keep an eye on wideout Terry McLaurin, though, a dynamic receiving talent who can change the game, but he has to have the ball in order for that to happen. Pressure bursts pipes or makes diamonds and, more often than not, Wentz leaves the bathroom flooded when faced with a relentless pass rush.
And if you've watched the film, you know it's not the kind of water NFL general managers are going to endlessly step in willingly -- e.g., the win-and-get-in regular season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.
If the Cowboys can use Micah Parsons to help dial up the pressure while mixing coverages in the defensive backfield to force Wentz into his third or fourth read, and under duress, it'll result in at least two turnovers for a Quinn-led defense that led the league in that category in 2021. The name of the game is to delete both McLaurin and rookie receiver Jahan Dotson, and that's half the battle won, with the other being a bit more difficult in hoping the rebuilt offensive line can stave off Chase Young and Co.; but with Young returning from a torn ACL, there's a chance he's not in prime form by Week 4. I'll take the Cowboys to sweep the Commanders again this season, because Wentz presents nothing they haven't literally already beaten up on before.
Week 4 prediction: 34-17, Cowboys
Week 18 prediction: 30-14, Cowboys
Week 5: Los Angeles Rams
Date: Sunday, Oct. 9
Location: SoFi Stadium (Los Angeles, CA)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2021 record: 12-5
Series record: 18-18 tie
A two-game win streak is nice, but three is better. And if that third consecutive victory can arrive at the expense of the reigning Super Bowl champs, all the better. This is yet another massive test for the Cowboys to help determine if they're ready to turn the corner in 2022, having already faced both the Buccaneers and the Bengals in Week 1 and Week 2, respectively. Fast forward less than a month and here they are going up against Matthew Stafford and Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, the offensive duo that combined with a stout defense to stave off the offensive juggernaut of Burrow, Chase and more. To say this won't be an easy battle is akin to saying the surface of the sun is simply balmy, so get ready for things to heat up in explosive fashion in Week 5.
Kupp is a force to be reckoned with and, at times, flat-out unstoppable. But while Stafford has shown he can punch a hole through the opposing defense at any given moment, let's not forget his regular season antics that cost the Rams games (i.e., the rash of midseason interceptions and ill-advised plays in the end zone).
Stafford is a dominant QB, but also one who can be schemed and pressured into making backbreaking mistakes, and that should give the Cowboys an in for defeating the Rams. Quiet as it's kept, Los Angeles is also a home away from home for the Cowboys, with a rabid Dallas fanbase aided largely by it being the home (Riverside) of Jerry Jones and Oxnard hosting the team's training camp on an annual, non-pandemic basis. That is to say, delete the home field advantage for the Rams, because they won't have one. At best, it'll be a 50/50 split in the crowd, so the Cowboys will get their share of cheers as Prescott enjoys the lack of Von Miller alongside Aaron Donald, but beware perennial All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner -- who joined the Rams in free agency after passing on the Cowboys -- but if only there was a coach in Dallas who knew every single detail about Wagner, including his weaknesses?
If ... only.
The Cowboys land the upset, and barely, but a win is a win.
Prediction: 35-34, Cowboys
Weeks 6 & 16: Philadelphia Eagles
First meeting: Week 6 (Lincoln Financial Field) - Sunday, Oct. 16, 8:20 p.m ET
Second meeting (Christmas Eve): Week 16 (AT&T Stadium) - Saturday, Dec. 24, 4:25 p.m. ET
2021 record: 9-8
Series Record: Cowboys lead 72-54
Flying high on a three-game win streak after downing the defending champs in LA, the Cowboys have to feel great about where they sit heading into Week 6. The problem is they're about to catch a flight from literally one side of the country to the other, a coast-to-coast trip to take on the Eagles, and without an extra day to prep. This works wildly in favor of the Eagles, who are also the most-improved team in the division this offseason. Sticking with Jalen Hurts as QB1 isn't something that should scare the Cowboys, considering they swept him last season, but he now has A.J. Brown to play opposite DeVonta Smith, and that could be a huge problem if that tandem gets fired up early.
Looking to the other side of the ball, an already strong defensive front is now much so with the addition of both Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean from this year's draft, two former superstar playmakers from Georgia, and Dean has a gargantuan chip on his shoulder from seeing his draft stock fall, which included the Cowboys passing on him several times before the Eagles gave him the nod.
Toss in the acquisition of linebacker Haason Reddick and, well, either the Cowboys offensive line better have their act together by Week 6 or Prescott better be wearing his brown pants. Oh, and by the way, the Eagles also signed the aforementioned James Bradberry to a deal in late May, bolstering their secondary by dropping in a very capable complement to All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay. It's difficult to fathom the Cowboys landing a sweep of the birds this time around, but they'll get some payback when the Eagles fly into Dallas later in the year.
Week 6 prediction: 30-24, Eagles
Week 16 prediction: 42-14, Cowboys
Week 7: Detroit Lions
Date: Sunday, Oct. 23
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2021 record: 3-13-1
Series record: Cowboys lead 17-12
It's easy to laugh at the Lions, or at least it was. Things changed when Dan Campbell took over as head coach in 2021 and, yes, I know what you're thinking. You're pointing at the 3-13-1 record to indicate not much has changed in Detroit, but tell me you don't watch football without saying you don't watch football. Campbell has quickly turned the Lions into an opponent that scraps and claws for every possible inch, and they very nearly landed some massive upsets last season. This means it would behoove the Cowboys to not take this game for granted, and especially if they do lose the first matchup against the Eagles in the game preceding this one.
Dropping two in a row is never a good thing, especially if those two are both within the conference, and this is a winnable game for the Cowboys (confession: I hate that phrase because technically every game is winnable, but that's a story for another day). With this being a home game for Dallas and Stafford not being on the other end -- those who know about those controversial battles know they usually ended in wild fashion -- it's Jared Goff they must account for. Unlike Wentz, Goff is still with the team he newly joined in 2021 but, like Wentz, Goff isn't a world-beater. Lawrence and Parsons should combine with Diggs to make life very difficult for Goff and, as such, for the entire Lions team in Week 7.
Campbell will have his guys ready to play, though, and so the Cowboys need to be on upset alert with every rep in practice leading into this game. That's all they need to do to ensure they're not punished later for losing to the Lions in the middle of the season.
Prediction: 27-10, Cowboys
Week 8: Chicago Bears
Date: Sunday, Oct. 30
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2021 record: 6-11
Series record: Cowboys lead 15-12
The tour of the NFC North is now underway with the Cowboys having hosted the Lions, and they'll get one more at home against an opponent from the division, this time being the Chicago Bears. It's another team in flux after parting ways with their head coach to install a new one, and it's someone the Cowboys know very well. Meet Matt Eberflus, former linebackers coach in Dallas turned defensive coordinator for the Colts turned head coach for the Bears. Eberflus is one of the sharpest defensive minds in all of football, which explains why the Cowboys wanted to promote him over Rod Marinelli, but his loyalty to Marinelli led him to turn down the offer and instead take the same DC position for the Colts.
He now brings his hard-nosed defensive mind to Chicago, but it remains to be seen how that will mesh with Justin Fields, a talented but young quarterback still in need of development to take the next step; and without Allen Robinson as a weapon.
Some solid gets in free agency will help, along with a hefty haul of rookies, but it's mostly linebacker Roquan Smith and another familiar face in Robert Quinn who'll potentially present the biggest problems for the Cowboys, at least defensively. And then there's safety Eddie Jackson, one of the more unheralded great players in the league, so Prescott will have his hands full. But if the Dallas offense can jump out to a fast lead and allow Quinn to tee off on Fields -- assuming the Cowboys linebackers (led by one of the fastest players in the league in Parsons) can cover Fields sideline to sideline -- then it could lead to the young QB getting flustered as he's shown he can be at times when things aren't going his way. Capitalize off of that inexperience and protect your dinner table.
Prediction: 38-20, Cowboys
Week 10: Green Bay Packers
Date: Sunday, Nov. 13
Location: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, WI)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2021 record: 13-4
Series record: Packers lead 20-17
This marks Game 3 of a four-game stretch against the NFC North, but this is probably where the good times come to a screeching halt against that division. This matchup will not be lacking for headlines, my friend. Rodgers remained with the Packers on a new mega-deal after two years of pretending he was going to leave and that, for the first time ever, pits him against his former head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy's departure from Green Bay was a toxic one that still has a bad taste in his mouth, and he'd love nothing more than to prove he's the main reason Rodgers has a Super Bowl ring, while Rodgers is thirsty to prove the same point -- considering McCarthy hasn't won another after being dismissed from the Packers.
And with that, the stage is set, but those aren't the only props. As a team, the Cowboys know Rodgers and the Packers all too well, especially in recent seasons.
From Rodgers' late-game playoff heroics at AT&T Stadium to the near-upset derailed by the Dez Bryant catch that was overturned, a play that might've been of no consequence if running back DeMarco Murray doesn't fumble the nail in the coffin earlier in the contest, it always feels like Rodgers and the Packers find a way to be the Cowboys' kryptonite whenever they are on the precipice of taking the next step in ending their Super Bowl drought. A huge void now exists with the trade of Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders, and that cannot be ignored, but this game is also at a point in the season when the Packers have found their stride and when the Cowboys typically stumble a bit. As such, they stumble here, but it might provide that much more fuel should these two teams meet in the playoffs -- when the long-awaited Cowboys revenge can be truly served ice cold.
Prediction: 30-27, Packers
Week 11: Minnesota Vikings
Date: Sunday, Nov. 20
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, MN)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2021 record: 8-9
Series record: Cowboys lead 18-15
At this point, if all goes to prediction, the Cowboys are 6-3 heading into U.S. Bank Stadium, and they don't want to start dancing around the .500 mark, if they can help it. To put it plainly, Kirk Cousins can be buried under his own field when facing a capable defense, to the point where Justin Jefferson is yelling expletives at him (this literally happened the last time Dallas traveled to Minnesota and handed them a loss). This isn't expected to be an easy go for the Cowboys, though, and it never is. From Prescott finding Dez Bryant to help steal a win a few seasons back to CeeDee Lamb's circus catch that led to the same outcome more recently, the Cowboys typically find ways to get the win in Minneapolis.
But let's play the law of averages here, and then mix in Za'Darius Smith. Smith chose the Vikings over an interested, but underbidding, Cowboys team in free agency (the added goal being to stick it to the Packers), and he joins Danielle Hunter to form a rather tantalizing pass rush duo aimed at Prescott.
They've also further bolstered the defense by adding Dalvin Tomlinson (2021) and Harrison Phillips, while future Hall of Fame cornerback Patrick Peterson returns for a second year in Minnesota with Harrison Smith and former Georgia safety Lewis Cine patrolling behind him. Of course, the Vikings also have a lot of firepower on offense with Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen, but this feels like a game to be dominated by a defense out to prove something after adding gunpowder following the firing of Mike Zimmer. Unlike the Giants, the law of average might be more apt to hand the Cowboys a loss here, after they've defeated the Vikings in four of the last five games (because the Vikings are a better team, presumably). A field goal by Greg Joseph as the clock hits all zeroes snatches victory from the jaws of defeat for the Purple People Eaters.
Prediction: 31-28, Vikings
Week 13: Indianapolis Colts
Date: Sunday, Dec. 4
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
2021 record: 9-8
Series record: Cowboys lead 10-7
It was one of the biggest trades in recent NFL history, in an offseason filled with them. Ryan, an Atlanta legend and potential future Hall of Famer (it's definitely a discussion), has played what was likely his final game in a Falcons uniform. As the organization moves into the new era, they've now traded away both Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, the latter finding his way to a very, very promising situation with the Colts. And he's no greenhorn so, given the right weapons and a defense that can actually stop someone from scoring, Ryan is set up for immediate success Indy.
That is, until Week 13, because there's a good reason he could struggle mightily to begin the month of December. That reason is Dan Quinn, his former head coach who knows every single thing about how to rattle him in a game and, to a lesser but still meaningful degree, former Falcons linebacker Dante Fowler. And while Ryan can still toss multiple touchdowns in a contest, he's also not equal to prime form, but Quinn is hot off of a blazing defensive year in Dallas and with a new multi-year contract in tow; and there are questions on if he'll be able to replicate the rabid successes of 2021.
None of this works in Ryan's favor, nor does the fact the Cowboys will enter this game following a mini-bye after having faced the New York Giants on Thanksgiving Day. That gives Quinn more time to scheme for Ryan, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore more days to plan an attack on a Colts defense led by All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and having now added defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (with a defensive coordinator change to Gus Bradley after Eberflus left for Chicago), and Moore is going to need every minute of it. But if Quinn can get to Ryan early and often, mistakes will be made, and the Cowboys can capitalize on them to snap a two-game win streak in their return to AT&T Stadium.
Prediction: 28-17, Cowboys
Week 14: Houston Texans
Date: Sunday, Dec. 11
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, TX)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2021 record: 4-13
Series record: Cowboys lead 3-2
Having the Colts in their rearview, the tour of the AFC South is underway and, to the Cowboys benefit, the first two legs of said tour are in Arlington. There's a lot to like about Mills taking over the QB position in Houston, given what he showed flashes of in 2021 after Tyrod Taylor went down with injury. The David Culley experiment lasted just one year for the Texans, and the role of head coach is now in the hands of a promoted Lovie Smith, who has coronated Mills as the QB1 going forward. He'll have veteran running back Marlon Mack attempting to gain yards from the backfield, and a healthy Brandin Cooks is very much a problem for opposing defenses, but you can't honestly look at the Texans offense and find a reason to fear them.
Can they land an upset against an NFL opponent? Of course, that's called football. But will they land one against the Cowboys, and on the road? That, my friend, is unlikely, barring the Cowboys wetting the bed like toddler who drank too much juice before bedtime.
Otherwise, the Cowboys should walk away with this one in convincing fashion. It appears the Texans are now on the forward track after yet another head coaching change and finally parting ways with the Deshaun Watson issues, but time will have to reveal that they are before awarding them a prediction upset against a Cowboys team with so much more to prove in 2022, and so much more talent to get it done. This is one wherein Moore will try to order a 40 burger, with extra cheese and bacon.
Prediction: 45-13, Cowboys
Week 15: Jacksonville Jaguars
Date: Sunday, Dec. 18
Location: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, FL)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2021 record: 3-14
Series record: Cowboys lead 4-3
The final leg of the AFC South tour will see the Cowboys leave Dallas to head over to North Florida, taking on the Jaguars in favorable December weather typical to Florida. With winter weather unlikely to play a factor, it'll be all about who is the better team, and that nod goes to the Cowboys. Well, that's the first part of the equation. The second part is proving you're the better team, because the familiarity Doug Pedersen has with battling the Cowboys will surely be weaponized when he faces them again for the first time since being fired as Eagles head coach following the 2020 season.
Can Pedersen take Lawrence to the next level in ways Urban Meyer could only dream of? It's safe to say the answer there is a resounding "yes", but it probably won't be as early as 2022 when you see the former first-overall pick have a breakout season. Much like the plan for Justin Fields, the name of the game needs to be bullying the young QB into making far more errors than good plays.
In doing so, the worry of having to keep a cap on Christian Kirk -- the veteran wideout signing a big-money deal to join the Jaguars in free agency after his unceremonious exit from the Cardinals -- and the speedy Zay Jones will be significantly reduced on a snap-to-snap basis. There's a different air in Jacksonville at the moment, but an organization that's been one of the more dysfunctional in the league as of late needs to prove they have their act together; and they can start as early as 2022. Just not in a game against a Cowboys team that, at this point in the season, is likely jockeying for playoff position (assuming they've handled enough business to this point to again be toward the top of the NFC).
Prediction: 34-20, Cowboys
Week 17: Tennessee Titans
Date: Thursday, Dec. 29
Location: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
2021 record: 12-5
Series record: Cowboys lead 8-7
After defeating the Eagles in Week 16 to split the series in 2022, the Cowboys are now on a five-game win streak heading into Week 17, and they'll head to another Southern City that has the possibility of escaping wintry weather in December. They'll enter it on a short week, though, because they played the Eagles on Christmas Eve, leaving them only two days of practice and a travel day before suiting up to take on the monster that is running back Derrick Henry. Without A.J. Brown to contend with, there's some good vibes to throw toward a capable Cowboys secondary, particularly when noting how poorly Ryan Tannehill played even when Brown was in uniform.
Henry is still Henry, though, and Robert Woods is now in the building to combine with rookie wideout Treylon Burks as the plan to replace an unproductive Julio Jones and a wildly productive Brown.
Defensively, you can bet Mike Vrabel will have his team ready to step up on the "Thursday Night Football" stage to take on "America's Team" under the bright lights of prime-time TV and at home, no less. The Titans finished last season with the best record in the AFC, and seem to always find ways to make life difficult for visitors. If this game was in Dallas, the Cowboys would have the edge, but it isn't, and Nissan Stadium will be literally shaking from the crowd as they cheer the Titans on to a narrow win over the Cowboys -- who see their late-season five-game win streak stopped due to a late game turnover or controversial call/no-call.
Prediction: 21-20, Titans
Landing at 12-5 for a second consecutive season would be impressive (and it's doable) and put the Cowboys in position to achieve the rare feat of delivering a repeat champion in the NFC East and again put them in the race for the top seed in the NFC. But feel free to flip one of the wins to a loss, because football, and 11-6 could still achieve those two goals (and I honestly landed there a few times before landing on my current final record prediction).
I'll stick with the 12-5 projection, though, because while they've taken a step back roster-wise to maybe 10 or 11 wins, the schedule rebalances the scale with plenty of party favors for the Cowboys. Overall, I see them doing better at protecting home field in 2022, but the offset is they take a step back in how dominant they've been on the road and, as such, break even in their travels. My prediction has them finishing one game worse in the NFC than last year, and one game worse in the division, but they make up for it elsewhere -- thanks to the AFC South.
Call me crazy with this overall prediction, and you will, but, hey, you did last season as well. But remind me, please, what was their final regular season record in 2021?
*slow, awkward wink*
Now let's play some football.
- Cowboys 2022 record: 12-5
- Conference record: 9-3
- Non-conference record: 3-2
- Division record: 5-1
- Home record: 8-1
- Away record: 4-4