While the Dallas Cowboys will always be known as "America's Team," they've done little over the past decade to prove that they deserve—or even want—the weight of one of the most iconic nicknames in NFL history.
After the Cowboys failed to win in the final week of the regular season for the second year in a row with a playoff berth on the line, general manager/owner Jerry Jones promised us all that the Cowboys would be in for an uncomfortable offseason (h/t Marc Sessler of NFL.com).
That offseason is over, and aside from a few player and coaching personnel changes, the Cowboys will keep in place most of the remaining pieces from a team that went 8-8 in 2012 and missed the playoffs yet again.
Will Thursday's NFL schedule release (h/t Sessler) mark a new era of Dallas football?
History says no, but the Cowboys come into the 2013 with a new defense (4-3 under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) and a new attitude now that head coach Jason Garrett is officially on the hotseat in what will be his third full season as Dallas' front man.
As the world prepares to check out what kind of schedule the Cowboys will have to contend with to surprise us all and make the postseason in 2013, here's a complete look at where the team stands heading into the NFL schedule release on Thursday.
2013 Confirmed Opponents (via DallasCowboys.com)
|New York Giants||New York Giants|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Washington Redskins||Washington Redskins|
|Green Bay Packers||Chicago Bears|
|Minnesota Vikings||Detroit Lions|
|Denver Broncos||San Diego Chargers|
|Oakland Raiders||Kansas City Chiefs|
|St. Louis Rams||New Orleans Saints|
Offseason Additions/Signings (h/t ESPN)
LB Justin Durant (FA)
S Will Allen (FA)
DE Anthony Spencer (franchised)
C Phil Costa (re-signed)
WR Anthony Armstrong (re-signed)
LB Ernie Sims (re-signed)
LS L.P. Ladouceur (re-signed)
LB Dan Connor (N.Y. Giants)
DE Kenyon Coleman (New Orleans)
CB Mike Jenkins (Oakland)
WR Kevin Ogletree (Tampa Bay)
TE John Phillips (San Diego)
DE Marcus Spears (Baltimore)
RB Felix Jones (un-signed)
S Gerald Sensabaugh (un-signed)
S Danny McCray (un-signed)
G Derrick Dockery (un-signed)
2013 NFL Draft Potential First-Round Targets (No. 18 Pick)
Alabama OG Chance Warmack
North Carolina OG Jonathan Cooper
Texas S Kenny Vaccaro
Alabama OT D.J. Fluker
Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson
Purdue DT Kawann Short
North Carolina DT Sylvester Williams
Dallas fell victim to the injury bug in 2012, but it was hardly an excuse for missing the postseason after the loss to Washington in Week 17 sealed Dallas' fate.
The 'Boys were fishing with tainted bait over the latter part of the season, losing starters Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Jay Ratliff, Phil Costa, Orlando Scandrick, DeMarco Murray and Miles Austin to injuries throughout various points in the season.
Lee's injury hurt the most, as the talented inside backer was really starting to emerge as one of the best players on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL.
To contend in 2013, Dallas must stay healthy—a tall task indeed after the events of last season.
Romo's Monster Deal
By now you've likely seen it, and whether you agree with the decision or not, it appears Tony Romo will retire as the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys when he's ready to hang up his spikes and helmet for good.
Jones gave Romo a six-year, $108 million contract extension this offseason, ensuring that the team won't be targeting a QB in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft and likely won't need to add a true playmaker at the position for the next couple of years.
It's the hand Dallas fans have now been dealt.
Romo did just complete one of his best season as an NFL QB, especially considering the circumstances with a shabby offensive line and patchwork job at receiver as Dez Bryant and Austin both missed time.
Romo threw for 4,903 yards and 28 touchdowns in 16 games, but also hurled a league-high 19 interceptions and only finished with the 8-8 record—the third year in a row in which Romo and the Cowboys failed to get above .500 by season's end.
With Romo's contract trumping Joe Flacco's and Tom Brady's when you gauge the money by Super Bowl rings, scrutiny and pressure will be greater than ever before in Dallas. Some players respond positively to that pressure late in their careers, and some fade away. We'll see which one Romo is.
Can Dallas Make the Playoffs?
How many games will Dallas win in 2013?
The hot-button question for the Cowboys will remain of the postseason variety until this team can put together consecutive seasons of playoff berths.
That feat hasn't happened since 2006-07, and, before that, you would have to go all the way back to the 1998-99 seasons to see it done. To top it all off, Dallas has only one playoff win (over Philadelphia in 2009) since the start of the 1997 season.
Unfair expectations are heaped on the Cowboys each season, something that is deplorable when given how bad some of the patchwork jobs have really been over the years but also part of the job when you put on the helmet with the star.
It's playoffs or bust in Dallas, and it will be until Jones is no longer in control.
Games That Will Decide Season
vs. Green Bay
Green Bay is a playoff team, a perennial contender and has the foundation to keep it that way for the next few years.
Dallas has not shown that model recently.
With the Packers coming to Cowboys Stadium and the team needing wins over teams that will likely finish above .500 to make up for the fact that the NFC East isn't going to be easy, this is a huge game to see both where Dallas is at the time of the contest and how this team will respond to a challenge.
It's a game that will also test the secondary and should show us how the Cowboys are equipped to handle good teams moving forward—if at all.
at New Orleans
The Saints may not have been a playoff team in 2012, but don't tell that to the fans or the players looking to prove that last season was a fluke.
With Drew Brees still around and former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan now working for other former employee Sean Payton, the feud between these regional rivals should be on full display at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
After a 34-31 New Orleans win in overtime that kept the Cowboys from gaining any momentum toward Washington in the Week 17 loss, this should be a game circled on Dallas' calendar.
Revenge for the Cowboys is spelled R-G-3.
Which NFC East opponent is the most dangerous threat to Dallas' playoff hopes?
Robert Griffin III victimized the Cowboys in two games last season, leading the Redskins to an improbable comeback from the brink of early-season elimination to win the NFC East and grab the division's only playoff spot.
Griffin is 2-0 in his NFL career against his home-state team.
While divisional games are already heated enough, this one could turn ugly. While we don't know what kind of team either will have at this point in the season, a changing of the guard could come by going 0-4 against Washington in the past two seasons.
Then again, Jones has never cared about conventional wisdom.
The Cowboys' 2013 opponents are about to get locked in, and it's due time to see which fans are excited about Dallas' prospects of doing something great this season.