Pro football is back. This Wednesday, the Dallas Cowboys travel to Met-Life Stadium to seek revenge on the Giants, who ended the Cowboys' 2011 season by defeating them in the final game of the regular season.
Here are my predictions for how the 2012 season will go for the Cowboys, including the key matchups, best players and scores.
Please check it out.
DeMarcus Ware vs. Will Beatty/David Diehl
Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr vs. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz
Tony Romo vs. NY pass rush
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin vs. New York’s injured secondary
The Giants feature an explosive offense stocked with weapons. Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks headline this unit. Last season, the New York Giants finished with the league's fifth-best passing offense but the league's worst rushing attack.
On defense, New York has one of the best pass rushes in the league. Led by Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, they finished with 48 sacks in 2011.
What I’m watching here is how the Cowboys offensive line can stand up to such a defensive attack. The Cowboys spent all offseason rebuilding their defense but seemed to neglect the offensive line. This might not bode well for Tony Romo, who should expect a ton of pressure.
The good news is that Dez Bryant and Miles Austin should be able to exploit what I say is a soft pass defense. The Cowboys should be able to get off some quick passes to set the tone of the game. The Giants gave up 255.1 passing yards and 121 rushing yards per game last season.
On the other side of the ball, I expect the Cowboys' pass rush to be effective against the New York offensive line. There will likely be some struggles for Morris Claiborne against Cruz, but we’ll just have to deal with those for the first couple games of the season.
DeMarco Murray: 20 carries, 94 yards, 1 touchdown
Tony Romo: 27/36, 295 yards, 2 touchdowns
DeMarcus Ware: 1.5 sacks
Cowboys 24 Giants 17
Marshawn Lynch vs. Sean Lee/Bruce Carter
Tony Romo vs. Seattle’s secondary
I wish I knew exactly what to expect from Seattle. I imagine it’ll be a little tough for them while Russell Wilson gets acclimated to life as an NFL quarterback.
One thing we do know is that Marshawn Lynch is going to be heavily featured.
Lynch has become one of the NFL’s premier power backs. Last season he rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns. He won’t be easy to contain and will open up the passing game for Seattle.
Another sure thing is that Seattle has a playmaking pass defense. Last season, the Seahawks had 22 interceptions and recovered nine of their 16 forced fumbles.
This is a game that could sneak up on the Cowboys. It will seem that Seattle is no match for them, but that can be deceiving. Romo will have to be careful of Brandon Browner, who made a living ball-hawking last year.
Dez Bryant: 7 Receptions, 82 yards, 2 TDs
Brandon Carr: 1 INT
Cowboys 20, Seahawks 10
DeMarcus Ware vs. Donald Penn/Carl Nicks
Brandon Carr vs. Vincent Jackson
Tampa Bay spent a lot of money this offseason. The Buccaneers were able to acquire big-time free agents Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks. For a team that was really bottom feeding all year last season, these signings were huge.
Those big names should improve the tea, they they won't lift them into the upper echelon.
Statistically, the Buccaneers were among the league's worst at rushing yards rushing yards allowed. They ranked in the lower tier in passing offense and defense as well.
While I think the new-look Bucs will offer a challenge to the Cowboys, I just can’t see them containing the talent that is on our roster. You can only contain players like DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee so long. You can try to contain Tony Romo and that offense, but eventually they’re going to break through as well.
This should be a game that is overhyped, and given that it’s the first home game, there should be some added intensity.
DeMarcus Ware: 2 Sacks
DeMarco Murray: 22 rushes, 116 yards, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 4 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 8 receptions, 102 yards, 1 TD
Cowboys 28, Bucs 13
Dallas’ Rush Defense vs. Matt Forte/Michael Bush
DeMarco Murray vs. Brian Urlacher/Lance Briggs
Chicago will be the Cowboys' second real test against a contender. This game will be tough because of Chicago's intense style. You can expect a hard-fought game that will be physically taxing, especially on Tony Romo, who will be chased by Julius Peppers.
Chicago has vastly improved its pass offense, which ranked 26th last year. The addition of Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey make this offense even more dangerous than it already was with Matt Forte as the featured player.
Sean Lee: 10 tackles
Tony Romo: 26/38, 230 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Bears 17, Cowboys 14
Morris Claiborne vs. Torrey Smith
Kenyon Coleman vs. Michael Oher
Tyron Smith vs. Haloti Ngata
This a tough matchup coming off the bye week. Notorious for tough, smash-mouth football teams, Baltimore offers the Cowboys their toughest test of the season.
Joe Flacco will test the range of this revamped Cowboys secondary with his cannon arm. Ray Rice will be a multi-dimensional threat, and Ray Lewis will continue to lead an elite defense.
Baltimore is truly solid in every aspect of its game, even coaching. The Cowboys will be challenged, not by elite athletes, but by a team that has always played with the “whole-team” concept.
Baltimore is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. A victory for the Cowboys would be a huge confidence boost.
Morris Claiborne: INT
Ravens 27, Cowboys 21
Dallas’ linebackers vs. Cam Newton
DeMarco Murray vs. Carolina’s inside linebackers
Tyron Smith vs. Charles Johnson
Cam Newton exploded onto the scene last year and took over as the most dynamic player in the league. He led a productive rushing offense that was able to pass the ball efficiently.
The 2011 season gave the Panthers confidence that they could contend in 2012.
They have upgraded their linebacker corps and are more experienced all over the roster. While I think the Panthers have improved, I don’t see them as a top-20 defense yet. Last season, they ranked 24th in passing defense and 25th in rushing defense.
A team like that doesn’t match up well against the Cowboys, who are dangerous in so many ways. I expect the Cowboys to take a step in the right direction in this game. A win should propel them into next week's big game.
Tony Romo: 33/40, 316 yards, 3 touchdowns
DeMarcus Ware: 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Cowboys 31, Panthers 14
Here we go again, the final matchup between these teams. I’m not going to repeat myself from the previous matchup, but I will say that this game is very important and revenge will be sought.
Morris Claiborne: 1 INT, 1 TD
Miles Austin: 6 Receptions, 106 yards, 1 TD
Giants 24, Cowboys 21
Roddy White vs. Brandon Carr
Julio Jones vs. Morris Claiborne
DeMarco Murray vs. Sean Weatherspoon
Atlanta has been one of those teams that has been slated for a Super Bowl for the last few years. The Falcons have all the talent in the world and, like the Cowboys, haven’t been able to put it all together when it counts.
The matchup here is really good. Even if you’re not a Cowboys fan, this is a game you watch. These teams are so similar in terms of expectations and talent that it’s almost always a good game.
The only real weakness in Atlanta’s game is its pass defense. Last season they ranked 20th overall. Sound familiar? They are a very good team and will be able to extend the field and use checkdowns to hurt the Cowboys.
In order for the Cowboys to win, they have be extremely disciplined on defense. This offense is one of the most explosive and efficient in the league.
Dez Bryant: 8 Receptions, 92 yards, 1 TD
Sean Lee: 8 Tackles, 1 Int
Falcons 28, Cowboys 17
Dallas’ Offensive Line vs. Philly’s Defensive Line
Morris Claiborne vs. DeSean Jackson
DeMarcus Ware vs. Michael Vick
The Eagles are by far the most talented team in the league. They are stacked on offense and defense with players like LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick, Trent Cole, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin.
The only thing stopping people from just handing the Lombardi Trophy to Philly is that the Eagles always seem to be injured.
The Cowboys will travel to "The Linc,” which is one of the toughest places to play. They face a team that ranked in the top-10 last season in every category accept rushing yards allowed.
If the Cowboys want to win, it’ll take a good effort by DeMarco Murray. The Eagles are a strong defensive unit, but there are holes in their “wide-9” defense that can be exploited.
If nothing else, it will be fun to watch Ware chase Vick around.
DeMarcus Ware: 2 Sacks
DeMarco Murray: 24 rushes, 124 yards, 2 TD
Eagles 28, Cowboys 21
Sean Lee vs. Trent Richardson
Dez Bryant vs. Joe Haden
The Cleveland Browns aren't a good team, they just aren’t. They haven’t been for quite some time and I don’t see that changing this year.
They spent the offseason trying to rebuild by adding running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Then, in the supplemental draft, they were able to land wide receiver Josh Gordon.
However, in the preseason they haven’t looked like they’ve improved much.
Cleveland will travel to Cowboys Stadium to face a team that has lost two straight and will be excited to play at home. The only real challenge that they’ll offer the Cowboys is through their passing defense, which ranked second in the league last season.
Jason Witten: 6 receptions, 72 yards, 1 TD
Brandon Carr/Morris Claiborne: 1 INT each
Cowboys 34, Browns 10
Dallas’ Defense vs. RG III
Barry Church/Gerald Sensabaugh vs. Fred Davis
DeMarcus Ware vs. Trent Williams
Brian Orakpo vs. Tyron Smith
This game is always tough. No matter where each team stands, the Cowboys vs. Redskins rivalry is one of the NFL's best.
Now that the Redskins have found their franchise quarterback, they offer a new explosive and exciting offense.
I’m not sure exactly what to expect because we haven’t seen RG III in the regular season. I will say that I expect the Redskins to be a potent offense that will be hard to defend.
On defense, the Redskins are solid. With the exception of their secondary, they are very tough. The Skins have a history of spoiling things for the Cowboys, but their lack of pass defense might pose a problem against such a loaded Dallas offense.
Tony Romo: 31/39, 316 yards, 3 TDs
Sean Lee: 9 tackles, FF, INT
Dallas 28, Redskins 14
The Cowboys look for revenge against a Philadelphia team that edged them out a few weeks prior. This time, the Eagles come to Dallas for what will likely be an important NFC East matchup.
DeMarco Murray: 18 rushes, 154 yards, 2 TDs.
Barry Church: 1 sack, 1 INT.
Cowboys 21, Eagles 17
Brandon Carr vs. A.J. Green
Dez Bryant vs. Leon Hall
Cincinnati is a fast riser in the NFL after going through a franchise makeover in fewer than two years.
Facing Dallas will not be easy task, as the Cowboys will be a three-game winning streak. These teams are pretty evenly matched and should battle it out. The Bengals are a tough defensive team that has an explosive offense and an elite receiver.
A defensive battle will ensue, but the Cowboys have the more consistent offense. The Bengals will have to bring their best to win this game.
The home-field advantage should be a major factor.
Jason Witten: 8 Receptions, 82 yards, 1 TD
DeMarcus Ware/Jay Ratliff: I sack each
Cowboys 17, Bengals 10
Dallas’ secondary vs. Pittsburgh’s receivers
Tony Romo vs. Pittsburgh’s blitz
This is another great rivalry that’s been downplayed over time.
The Steelers have relied on strong defense for the last decade, but have also groomed elite-caliber receivers to allow the offense to make up for what the defense is losing with age.
The Cowboys should have their hands full with the Steelers. This will be a great test for the Cowboys, who will be in the thick of the playoff hunt at this point.
Demarco Murray: 17 rushes, 85 yards, 1 TD
DeMarcus Ware: 4 TFL, 2 Sacks
Steelers 20, Cowboys 16
Dallas’ secondary vs. Drew Brees
Tony Romo vs. New Orleans’ secondary
The Cowboys haven’t had a true shootout all season, but that’s about to change.
Both teams have elite quarterbacks who can make plays in the passing game against any defense.
The Saints had the league's 30th-ranked ranked pass defense last season, but the league's first-ranked passing offense.
Not much else to say except it should be a good one.
Tony Romo: 39/45, 362 yards, 5 TDs
Dez Bryant: 11 Receptions, 125 yards, 2 TDs
Cowboys 45, Saints 34
This is another season-ending game with legitimate worth. The Cowboys are facing a win-and-in situation and have another division foe in their way.
Tony Romo: 33/39, 305 yards, 3 TDs.
DeMarcus Ware: 6 TFL, 2 Sacks, 1 FF
Cowboys 31, Redskins 14
The Cowboys reach their goal and finish 10-6 and in the playoffs. They will play Wild Card weekend. I don’t like to speculate about the postseason, but I do believe that they finish with at least one postseason victory.
Tony Romo and Jason Garrett should be relieved.
Remember, these are just my predictions, let me know yours, or where I messed up.
This is the part of the season where we can all have fun with what might happen.