The Dallas Cowboys’ road map for the start of the Mike McCarthy era is now clear.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took his time before finally firing Jason Garrett in January after Dallas went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. The team almost immediately tabbed McCarthy as his replacement.
The 56-year-old guided the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl in 2010. The end of his tenure in Green Bay raised questions about whether he can ultimately help Dallas relive its glory days.
The Cowboys re-signed Amari Cooper and placed the franchise tag on Dak Prescott, who has yet to formally sign his one-year tender. However, they lost Byron Jones, Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins, while Travis Frederick abruptly retired as well.
Meeting what will surely be sky-high expectations won’t be easy for McCarthy in his first season. The defense is a big question mark with so many key players out the door.
Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Week 1 – (Sun., Sept. 13): Cowboys vs Rams, 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 2 – (Sun., Sept. 20): Cowboys vs Falcons, 12 p.m. (FOX)
Week 3 – (Sun., Sept. 27): Cowboys vs Seahawks, 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Week 4 – (Sun., Oct. 4): Cowboys vs Browns, 12 p.m. (FOX)
Week 5 – (Sun., Oct. 11): Cowboys vs Giants, 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Week 6 – (Mon., Oct. 19): Cowboys vs Cardinals, 7:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Week 7 – (Sun., Oct. 25): Cowboys vs Redskins, 12 p.m. (FOX)
Week 8 – (Sun., Nov. 1): Cowboys vs Eagles, 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 9 – (Sun., Nov. 8): Cowboys vs Steelers, 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Week 10 – Bye –
Week 11 – (Sun., Nov. 22): Cowboys vs Vikings, 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Week 12 – (Thurs., Nov. 26): Cowboys vs Redskins, 3:30 p.m. (FOX)
Week 13 – (Thurs., Dec. 3): Cowboys vs Ravens, 7:20 p.m. (FOX/NFLN/Amazon)
Week 14 – (Sun., Dec. 13): Cowboys vs Bengals, 12 p.m. (FOX)
Week 15 – (Sun., Dec. 20): Cowboys vs 49ers, 7:20 p.m. (NBC)
Week 16 – (Sun., Dec. 27): Cowboys vs Eagles, 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Week 17 – (Sun., Jan. 3): Cowboys vs Giants, 12 p.m. (FOX)
Cowboys strength of schedule
The Cowboys, based on their 2020 opponents’ winning percentage in 2019, have the NFL’s third easiest schedule. Their 13 foes combined for a 117-138-1 record (.459) last season.
The Bengals, Redskins, Giants, Cardinals and Browns contribute much to the overall weakness of the schedule. Those teams did things in the offseason to change and improve, however. The top end of the schedule features the Ravens, 49ers and Seahawks, who went a combined 38-10 as Super Bowl contenders a year ago.
Considering all that, Dallas is more facing a slate that’s more middle of the pack than near the bottom.
Toughest Tests: The Cowboys will be seeing purple reign twice on the road against the Ravens and the Vikings. They also have two challenging West Coast trips with the Rams and the Seahawks hosting them.
It’s also well-documented that the Cowboys don’t have the best home-field advantage, especially when inviting strong fan bases. That applies to three games at AT&T Stadium this season, with the Steelers, 49ers and, yes, the Browns bringing their own noise to Arlington.
Biggest Breaks: Dallas is aware that every game in the NFC East comes with some baseline of toughness. The Giants (Joe Judge) and Redskins (Ron Rivera) also carry renewed optimism and drive that come with new coaches. With that said, New York and Washington both might need another year before challenging for the division title.
Outside of the division, the Cardinals and Falcons at home are the Cowboys’ most manageable games because of matchups that favor of the Cowboys’ explosive offense. On the road, the Bengals represent their best chance at a “free space” game.
Bottom line: The Cowboys could go in either direction from .500. But with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott still together as highly compensated offensive triplets, and with Mike Nolan scheming up a new-look defense that can help mitigate its veteran personnel losses, Jones isn’t wrong to have grand expectations for the beginning of the McCarthy era.
Things ended roughly for McCarthy in Green Bay, but his track record suggests he can get the best out of Prescott and all of his Dallas teammates with an aggressive approach. Beating out Philadelphia to take back the division will be tough, especially in a loaded NFC, but it might require improving only two games to double-digit wins. At worst, the Cowboys should be considered dangerous wild-card contenders.
Record Prediction: 10-6