Over the past decade, the Dallas Cowboys have been average at best. In 2013, America's Team continued that trend with its third straight 8-8 season.
Despite missing out on the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and losing one of the best players in franchise history in DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys still have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL.
But in a division where the Philadelphia Eagles are on the rise and both the New York Giants and Washington Redskins appear primed for turnaround seasons, getting into the postseason looks like a daunting task for the Cowboys yet again.
Outside of its division, Dallas has a road schedule that features one tough matchup against the Seattle Seahawks but is otherwise fairly painless with games against the St. Louis Rams, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
As for the home slate, the Cowboys face dangerous franchises in the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals along with the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, three of which were playoff teams in 2013.
With the weight growing heavier on the shoulders of Jason Garrett and Tony Romo, in particular, here's a look at the schedule for the Cowboys in 2014, which ranks 18th in strength of schedule, according to John Breech of CBSSports.com.
|1||Sept. 7||vs. San Francisco 49ers||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|2||Sept. 14||at Tennessee Titans||1 p.m.||Fox|
|3||Sept. 21||at St. Louis Rams||1 p.m.||Fox|
|4||Sept. 28||vs. New Orleans Saints||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|5||Oct. 5||vs. Houston Texans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|6||Oct. 12||at Seattle Seahawks||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|7||Oct. 19||vs. New York Giants||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|8||Oct. 27||vs. Washington Redskins||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|9||Nov. 2||vs. Arizona Cardinals||1 p.m.||Fox|
|10||Nov. 9||at Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m.||Fox|
|12||Nov. 23||at New York Giants||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|13||Nov. 27||vs. Philadelphia Eagles||4:30 p.m.||Fox|
|14||Dec. 4||at Chicago Bears||8:25 p.m.||NFLN|
|15||Dec. 14||at Philadelphia Eagles||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|16||Dec. 21||vs. Indianapolis Colts||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|17||Dec. 28||at Washington Redskins||1 p.m.||Fox|
When looking at records from last season, the 2014 schedule for the Cowboys doesn't look terrifying. But taking the offseason moves that many of their opponents made along with the talent that some of the franchises have on their rosters, Dallas' slate is much tougher than it appears on paper.
Just in the NFC East alone, the rival Redskins added the likes of Ryan Clark and DeSean Jackson to bolster both sides of the ball. Outside of the East, the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears didn't put together seasons they were capable of, but they are both immensely talented and potential playoff teams.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com notes that the tandem of Jackson and Pierre Garcon in Washington might make them one of the deadliest in the league, per the NFL's official Twitter account:
If the Cowboys plan on getting back to the playoffs for the first time under Garrett, they will have to contend with other teams that have similar aspirations.
Dallas is on the cusp of getting over the top every season but can't cash in at the end of the year. With yet another division matchup to close out 2014, the Cowboys might be contending for a postseason spot during the last contest for a fourth straight time.
The divisional games in the NFC East are always must-see TV, and 2014 won't be any different. Both games against the Skins are always crucial ones, but facing off with the Eagles could once again result in the difference between playing in January and watching from home.
With the NFC East playing against the NFC West this season, the Cowboys will have to face some of the best defenses in the entire NFL. The Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals all feature defenses in the top 10, so offense will be at a premium in each of those games.
Dallas also has to travel an abnormally long distance to play one of its away games. For the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys will play in Wembley Stadium in London.
Which matchup will be the toughest for the Cowboys?
NFL chief marketing officer Mark Waller spoke about the decision to play the Cowboys-Jaguars game in London, along with two others, per Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:
"We are excited about playing three regular-season games in the UK for the first time," Waller said, "and debuting a new game time that we expect to be a hit with fans on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world."
That game will be played at night in London and air at 1 p.m. ET on Fox. While the Jaguars aren't a tough opponent, the Cowboys could end up with some jet lag going in or coming out of this contest.
As the Cowboys get set to get over the .500 hump in 2014, the schedule is finally set for them to do so. In a tough division where every team has legitimate aspirations of playing in January, surviving the gauntlet could pay dividends if they reach the playoffs.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter. His unofficial 40 time was legendary.