The Dallas Cowboys began the 2012 season with a bang when they took down the division rival New York Giants on the NFL’s opening Thursday Night contest. The ‘Boys will face the G-Men again to start the 2013 season, this time at home on Sunday night. Always a huge draw, there’s a good chance that the game breaks the all-time record for the most viewed regular-season matchup.
Dallas really needs to start this year on fire because, as per usual, the final month of the season is torturous. They’ll face the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles to close out the year, and I doubt Cowboys fans want to see another win-or-go-home game in Week 17.
Here’s the rest of the Cowboys’ 2013 schedule:
1 New York Giants
6 Washington Redskins
7 @Philadelphia Eagles
12 @New York Giants
14 @Chicago Bears
15 Green Bay Packers
16 @Washington Redskins
17 Philadelphia Eagles
Let’s break ‘em down.
Although the Cowboys' final box score in last year's opening night matchup showed balance, the truth is the offense gained a lead by passing the football often. They ran the ball well late, racking up yards to create the illusion of offensive balance.
In 2013, the Cowboys are going to beat the Giants by continuing to do what they do best: throwing the football. Dallas has massive advantages at the skill positions, particularly when Dez Bryant is covered by Corey Webster. The most overrated cornerback in the NFL allowed eight touchdowns and over 10 yards per attempt last year! If Webster is ever on an island against Bryant, he’s going to lose, and in a bad way.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 28, Giants 24 (1-0)
The Cowboys will see a friendly face when they visit the Kansas City Chiefs in head coach Andy Reid. Reid really got the best of the Cowboys during his reign in Philadelphia, particularly by exploiting oversized linebackers. Well, players like Bradie James and Keith Brooking are gone, replaced by one of the elite linebacker duos in the NFL in Bruce Carter and Sean Lee.
For Carter and Lee, Week 2 might be their stiffest challenge all year. Carter, in particular, will frequently be matched up with Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster out of the backfield. Nonetheless, you have to like the Cowboys’ chances on offense.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 24, Chiefs 17 (2-0)
The St. Louis Rams have a revamped offensive unit, but it’s their defense that Dallas will be able to exploit. The Rams’ best player is probably defensive end Chris Long, whose 55 pressures ranked him first in the NFL last season. Long lined up on the left side of the defense on 99.4 percent of his 2012 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
Long’s alignment is an important note because it means he’ll be lined up over right tackle Doug Free on almost every snap. That’s a huge mismatch in the Rams’ favor and one Jason Garrett and Bill Callahan will need to patch up if they want to protect Tony Romo.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 27, Rams 21 (3-0)
The San Diego Chargers have quickly plummeted down the ranks in terms of player talent, and that was before losing multiple players for the season, including talented wide receiver Danario Alexander.
Vincent Brown will be a player to watch, namely because the Cowboys have typically struggled with smaller receivers. Brown is 5'11", 187 pounds, although his 4.71 40-yard dash and lackluster 33.5-inch vertical suggest people might be overestimating his ability to excel in the NFL.
Brown will probably line up in the slot quite a bit, where he’ll be covered by Orlando Scandrick. The Cowboys’ nickel cornerback isn’t a fan favorite, but I actually provided him with my highest grade in 2012. He allowed only a 51.3 percent completion rate, 5.7 YPA and zero touchdowns in coverage.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 28, Chargers 17 (4-0)
After a relatively easy start to the 2013 season, the Cowboys will host the Denver Broncos in what will likely be the team’s toughest matchup all season.
The Broncos have three legitimate potential Pro Bowl receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. People seem to be sleeping on Decker after the Broncos acquired Welker, but the 6'3", 214-pound wide receiver has taken 16.3 percent of his career catches into the end zone.
Decker will be matched up often with Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne. I’ve predicted a breakout season for Claiborne in 2013. Claiborne showed signs of elite play last year; although he allowed 8.3 YPA, he was targeted just 69 times. That allowed him to yield only 1.14 yards per coverage snap, suggesting the then-rookie had quality coverage the majority of the time.
PREDICTION: Broncos 31, Cowboys 23 (4-1)
The Washington Redskins absolutely torched the Cowboys defense in 2012 to the tune of 897 total yards in two games. Amazingly, nearly half of those yards (423) came on the ground. Unfortunately for Dallas, I expect more of the same in 2013.
Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense will likely increase the number of takeaways, but I’m not sure the veteran defensive coordinator has an answer for RGIII’s legs. Griffin—who recorded the highest passer rating against the blitz in the history of the NFL in his rookie year—represents a problem that Kiffin couldn’t tackle during his time as the defensive coordinator at USC.
PREDICTION: Redskins 34, Cowboys 20 (4-2)
I don’t hide the fact that I’m a fan of the Cowboys, but I’m nearly just as excited to watch the ‘Boys as I am to see Chip Kelly in action in the NFL. I believe his approach is going to change the way the game is played, starting as soon as this year. It’s too bad that Dallas doesn’t travel to Philly earlier in the year, because Kelly’s offense could be a well-oiled machine by this point in the season.
Like with Washington, defending the Philadelphia Eagles will be about giving them looks they haven’t yet scene. Even if you play “disciplined” football, Kelly has all sorts of packaged plays that allow for big gains regardless of your defensive look. The Cowboys need to force the issue, not try to sit back and react to what the Eagles do.
PREDICTION: Eagles 28, Cowboys 27 (4-3)
Coming off three straight losses, the Cowboys will need to play their best football against a Detroit Lions team that will be much-improved in 2013. In terms of expected points added on offense and defense, Detroit was one of the unluckiest teams in the NFL last year regarding their actual points, i.e. they played well enough to score more points and allow fewer than they really did.
And according to the Pythagorean Win Expectation—a formula that predicts wins based on points scored and allowed, per Pro-Football-Reference.com—the Lions’ most likely win total given their numbers was 6.49 wins. So you have a team that should have scored more given how they played and should have won more given how they scored; that’s a recipe for a major improvement in 2013.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 31, Lions 30 (5-3)
Of all the 2012 playoff teams, the Minnesota Vikings are probably the most likely to miss the postseason this year. With a quarterback whose average throw traveled just 6.9 yards, Minnesota just doesn’t have the offensive firepower in the passing game to take pressure off Adrian Peterson. It took a superhuman effort from “All Day” to propel the Vikes to the playoffs last year, but that’s unlikely to happen again.
Although Kiffin’s defense will likely struggle with the run in 2013, it gets a whole lot easier when a team can’t throw the ball effectively. Christian Ponder might develop nicely in his third NFL season, but his 6.19 YPA through two years suggests he’s not ready to take a huge leap.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 21, Vikings 17 (6-3)
According to Pro Football Focus, Drew Brees had a passer rating of 113.7 when throwing in 2.5 seconds or less last year. That ranked him second in the league, behind only Aaron Rodgers. The reason is, Brees is so good at finding the hot receiver when defenses blitz him, meaning the Cowboys would be well-served to sit back in coverage against the undersized quarterback.
Ideally, Kiffin won’t blitz a lot this year because he’ll be able to get pressure on the quarterback with four or fewer rushers. If he needs more, that’s trouble.
PREDICTION: Saints 28, Cowboys 20 (6-4)
The Cowboys should feel pretty good if they indeed come out of their Week 11 bye with a 6-4 record, but traveling to play the New York Giants won’t be an easy task. The Giants actually had a plus-85 point differential last season—the highest in the division, by far. Based on their points scored and allowed, New York’s most likely record was 10-6, which would have gotten them into the playoffs.
Victor Cruz will be a player to watch for the Giants offense. Cruz has burned Dallas in the past, giving Scandrick, in particular, some problems in the slot. Cruz caught only 62.8 percent of his targets in 2012—a low rate given his position. That should improve in 2013, meaning Cruz could once again top 90 catches.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 24, Giants 21 (7-4)
The Oakland Raiders are going to live and die with Matt Flynn in 2013. Flynn has one of the weakest arms in the league, but I’m still slightly more bullish on him than most. The reason is, he was really, really good in limited action with the Packers. Yes, the Raiders’ offensive talent doesn’t come close to matching that in Green Bay, but it’s still difficult for any quarterback to average 7.7 YPA.
In his two career starts, Flynn has completed 55 of 81 passes (67.9 percent) for 731 yards, nine touchdowns and only two picks. It’s going to be a struggle with Denarius Moore as his top receiving option, but Flynn at least gives Oakland a glimmer of hope for the future.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 30, Raiders 17 (8-4)
On a Week 4 Monday night showdown in 2012, the Chicago Bears stifled Tony Romo on the way to securing five interceptions. Due to those picks, Romo’s adjusted yards per attempt—a stat that incorporates interceptions—was nearly five full yards lower than his actual YPA.
One of the things that the Cowboys have going for them in this matchup is that they’ll have plenty of experience facing a defense similar to that of the Bears—their own. Kiffin has said that he wants to use the Seattle Seahawks and Bears as the templates for the Dallas defense, so the ‘Boys will see a Chicago-like D often in practice.
PREDICTION: Bears 20, Cowboys 17 (8-5)
One of the keys for Dallas against the Packers will be containing elite pass-rusher Clay Matthews. The outside linebacker spends most of his time lined up on the right side of the Packers defense, meaning he’ll face off primarily against left tackle Tyron Smith.
I think Smith is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl tackle, and this will be one of his biggest tests of the year. Matthews rushed on 84.4 percent of his snaps in 2012.
PREDICTION: Packers 34, Cowboys 24 (8-6)
The thing that makes RGIII so dangerous isn’t just that he can run, but that he can also run and throw the ball with the best of them. His top target is Pierre Garcon; in 2012, Griffin totaled a 116.7 passer rating when targeting Garcon. The receiver caught 69.8 percent of his 63 targets—a great sign that he’s on the verge of breaking out with a heavier workload.
This particular matchup will have huge playoff implications, representing a chance for Romo to redeem himself from last year’s poor Week 17 performance in the nation’s capital. I think he’ll do it.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 21, Redskins 20 (9-6)
Cowboys fans are going to be a nervous bunch if the team does, indeed, enter Week 17 with a 9-6 record. If that happens, there’s a good chance that the ‘Boys will be playing for the division.
Since the NFL switched to the current format with every team playing a division foe in the final week, it has really opened up a lot of potential comeback scenarios and win-or-you’re-out matchups. This could be one of those, but this time, the Cowboys will come out on top.
PREDICTION: Cowboys 31, Eagles 21 (10-6)