Finally there is some actual football related news to talk about with the Dallas Cowboys. The 2011 NFL schedule was released today. I'm operating under the assumption that both the owners and the players aren't dumb enough to let the labor dispute force any games to be missed. With that said, trying to analyze the schedule and determine a win-loss record before free agency and the draft is completely ridiculous.
At least in years past you could have a general feel for the roster make up since the bulk of free agency would have been completed at this point. But this year we are still looking at the exact same roster that finished the season in January. So I'll just focus on the schedule in generalities and save the win-loss predictions for a later date.
The first thing that is noticeable about the schedule is that it seems much easier than the last few years. Part of that comes from the fact that the Cowboys are playing a third place schedule. But it doesn't hurt that they are playing the AFC East which features the Bills and Dolphins along with the Jets and Patriots. And playing the NFC West doesn't exactly strike fear into the Cowboys. I count six games out of the division right off the bat that are very winnable games regardless of the final roster make up for the Cowboys: the 49ers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, Dolphins, and Bills.
There was a writer who I won't name with the Dallas Morning News who was throwing around the ridiculous notion that the Cowboys are no longer a ratings draw because they aren't going to be nationally televised in any preseason games. Seriously? Like anyone really cares about preseason games outside of the hardcore fan base. With the regular season schedule out you see the Cowboys in five prime time games: three Sunday night games, a Monday night game and a Saturday night NFL Network game. Clearly the NFL schedule makers know the Cowboys bring in the ratings whether they are coming off a 6-10 season or a 13-3 season. And they will play in what could be the biggest regular season game of the year in terms of ratings when they go to the Jets on September 11.
The Cowboys start the season with back to back road games. Traveling to the Jets with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 fueling the Jets and their fans is going to be very tough. And that is followed up with a trip all the way to the other side of the country to play the 49ers. That will make for a difficult start to the season.
The Cowboys finally won't be finishing the season against the Eagles. The Cowboys have finished the season out against the Eagles for the last three seasons. This year they get the Giants in the season finale. I like the fact that the NFL is trying to put division games on the final weekend because there are usually playoff spots and division titles at stake. Bring on Eli Manning and the Giants. Maybe the Cowboys can clinch a division crown and knock the Giants out of the playoffs in the final game of the season. That would be sweet.
The bye week comes in week 5 this year. While I'd like to see the bye week come a little later in the season I'm not going to complain about week five. The bye week will give the Cowboys a week to recover from the first four games and an extra week of preparation for a road trip to New England. I can't complain about the Cowboys getting a bye week before taking on Tom Brady.
The more I look at the schedule the more excited I get. But, like I mentioned before, it is way too early to start putting win-loss predictions out there. I have a feeling my prediction will be extremely optimistic based on the schedule but I have to see how the roster concerns are addressed in free agency and the draft first. The schedule sure looks favorable for the Cowboys. I haven't been able to say that for a few years.