Five Games the Dallas Cowboys Have to Win to Make the Playoffs
2012 is no exception. As if the NFC East isn’t challenging enough, add a full set of games against the NFC South and AFC North (a total of five playoff teams from 2011), and you can easily make a case for another 9-7 division champion.
The Romo-era Cowboys are ripe with what-ifs and 2011 continued that trend.
What if the Cowboys had held onto their 24-point lead over the Detroit Lions in Week 4? What if Jason Garrett hadn’t iced Dan Bailey in Week 13? What if Bailey actually made that second 49 yard field goal? What if the Cowboys had held onto even one of their five fourth quarter leads?
The answer is simple. They would have won the NFC East and hosted a playoff game.
Not as simple is avoiding those mistakes. Here are five more what-ifs in terms of schedule. These are the games the Cowboys must win if they expect to snap a two year playoff drought and, even more importantly, win the division for the first time since 2009.
Week 1 @ New York Giants
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This one should be obvious to anyone that’s been near any sort of social media platform. Not only is it the official kickoff of the long awaited 2012 NFL season, it’s a matchup of bitter rivals who last saw each other in a showdown for the division crown. It’s interesting that the Cowboys began and ended their season at MetLife Stadium in 2011. The results of which were equally frustrating.
Picking up right where they left off, the Cowboys will travel back to MetLife to face the Super Bowl Champions in Week 1. This game could very well set the tone for the rest of the season.
Aside from the obvious importance of winning a divisional game and winning on the road, this represents a chance for the Cowboys to make a statement, to roll into East Rutherford, NJ and remind the Champs that their reign is over. It cannot be overstated how important it is for them to get off on the right foot, to get the fans behind them immediately, and to begin the gradual rebuilding of the mystique that once was America’s Team.
And as if this game needed much more hype, leave it to Martellus Bennett to up the ante by expressing his desire to beat down the Cowboys. This is one of the best rivals in all of sports so props to the NFL for scheduling one of the most highly anticipated openers in a long time. There will be no shortage of personal fouls in this one.
Week 4 vs. Chicago Bears
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No team has more victories on Monday Night Football than the Dallas Cowboys. Only one team (Miami Dolphins) has more losses on Monday Night Football than the Chicago Bears, one of the few trends the Cowboys need not break.
What makes this game a must-win is it represents the first true test since their opener against the Giants. It’s not to say that the Seahawks in Week 2 or the Buccaneers in Week 3 won’t be tough, but they certainly won’t represent the same potential of a rematch in the playoffs.
The Bears have a lot of high expectations for 2012 and beating them would lend some credibility to the Cowboys (and probably some Super Bowl favoritism, which seems to happen whenever they put a few wins together). Furthermore, as important as it is to win on the road, it is even more important to win at home, especially on Monday night in front of a national audience-not that the Cowboys don’t get enough coverage.
Regardless, no matter the form or fashion, the Cowboys must be no worse than 2-2 going into their bye week.
Week 11 vs. Cleveland Browns
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It may seem strange to think that a game against a non-divisional opponent, one that is expected to finish in last place, would be any sort of must-win scenario. But after a tough five game stretch (Ravens, Panthers, Giants, Falcons, Eagles) that includes four on the road, the Cowboys need to return home and absolutely beat the pants off of the Browns.
It will be easy for them to take this game lightly as they look forward to the last half of the season. The Browns, after all, are the easiest opponent on their schedule. But that’s exactly the kind of attitude and lack of preparation that has doomed this team over the last several years.
Week 11 is the start of a three game home stand. And if they don’t take it seriously, it’ll be the beginning of their season’s end.
Week 13 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
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The Cowboys struggles in December have been well documented. That’s a major source of the criticism against Romo. If he’s somehow cursed in the last full month of the regular season, it might not be a bad idea to have Kyle Orton up to speed by then.
There are five Sundays in December this year, which mean five games. It’s the first time that’s happened since Romo took over as the starter in 2006. To make matters even worse, that five game stretch includes three playoff teams from 2011 and two divisional match-ups.
This makes Week 13 versus the Eagles the most important game on their schedule.
Not only is it the first of a tumultuous December stretch for a team with a history of tumultuous Decembers, it’s against a division rival that swept them last year. Or more like, embarrassed them last year. In their two meetings the Cowboys lost by a combined score of 54-14. Their offense managed only 505 total yards to the Eagles 881.
This year, the Cowboys need to return the favor. They can’t run and hide from the Eagles like they did last year. They can’t afford another losing record in December.
Week 17 @ Washington Redskins
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I don’t expect to Redskins to be in position for a playoff appearance of any sort come December. I do expect them to fully embrace the spoiler role they’ll be playing when they host the Cowboys in Week 17.
It’s certainly not out of the question to think that tie breakers will be in place to crown the NFC East champion. Furthermore, after games against the Bengals, Steelers and Saints, the Cowboys could be limping into FedEx Field with their playoff hopes on the brink.
No team in the NFL gets more joy out of defeating the Cowboys than the Redskins. So regardless of their record, regardless of their power rankings the Redskins will be more than ready to end their season by ending the Cowboys’ season.
With the Giants and Eagles playing each other that same week, this is a game the Cowboys will have to win to secure a playoff berth.