While the Dallas Cowboys may seem to have only an average strength of schedule, as their 2018 opponents went .500 last season, no mistake should be made. They have one of the most difficult slates in the entire NFL. The way NFL scheduling works is that teams play each opponent in their division twice. The Cowboys share a division with the Super Bowl champion Eagles, and won’t face them until Week 10, meaning Carson Wentz is likely to be back at full strength by that point. They also play one division within their conference and one division outside of their conference. Of the eight teams in those two divisions (the NFC South and AFC South), five of them made the playoffs last season. A sixth, the Houston Texans, would have if Deshaun Watson had stayed healthy. So already, the Cowboys have eight playoff caliber opponents if you count the Eagles twice, but they also have three placement games against the other NFC teams that finished in second place in their division last season. Those teams are the Atlanta Falcons, who made the Super Bowl two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl five years ago, and the Detroit Lions, who made the playoffs in 2016.
In other words, brace yourselves for some very hard-fought games. The Cowboys are facing down an absolute gauntlet this season, and Will Brinson of CBS Sports explained just where that difficulty is going to come into play in the middle of the season. There is one stretch on Dallas’ schedule that he believes is harder than all others.
That stretch of the schedule, from Week 10 through Week 14, starts and ends with the Eagles, but also includes the Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins. In the stretch of five weeks, the Cowboys play a Super Bowl champion twice, a Super Bowl loser once, a division winner once, and the easy game in that stretch is a battle with Alex Smith, who made the playoffs last season.
What makes things even scarier from a schedule perspective is that the Cowboys have perhaps an even harder stretch to open the season. In their first six weeks they have three hard road games (at the Panthers, Texans and Seahawks), and they host last season’s AFC runner up, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The schedule doesn’t get easier until the end. The Cowboys close with games against the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants, three teams that picked in the top-seven in April’s NFL Draft. If the Cowboys can just stay in the playoff hunt until then, they will be in prime position to go on a run down the stretch and make it into the postseason.
But the idea of playing against the Eagles, Falcons, Saints and Eagles again in what is essentially a one-month stretch is not exactly appealing. The Cowboys are going to have to be far better in 2018 if they are going to hold up against teams at that level.