The Cowboys were never able to take advantage of their schedule last season because of their 1-7 start. Although the Cowboys have a tough schedule (129-127-0 combined opponents record), this year should be different and with less expectations coming in, they can fly under the radar. Here's a look at the Cowboys 2011 regular season schedule game by game.
Dallas starts their season off on September 11th against the Jets on Sunday Night Football. The biggest storyline will be Rob Ryan's debut with the Cowboys against his brother Rex Ryan's Jets. The Jets have made back-to-back AFC championship games, so a win here for the Cowboys would be a terrific start to the season. However, it'll be tough as this will be the first true game for the Cowboys' new defense and if anyone knows it better than Rob himself, it's his brother.
In Week 2 the Cowboys start a three week stretch against inferior opponents starting with the San Francisco 49ers. What was once a heated rivalry in the early 1990's has died down a bit, but with a new coach in Jim Harbaugh and a revamped defense, the 49ers could be a worthy opponent.
The Cowboys finally get to play at home in Week 3 against the division rival Washington Redskins, with whom they split the season series with last year. The Redskins have also made significant changes from last season and for the first time in years have a reason for optimism. However, the Cowboys plan on making sure that the Redskins doesn't ruin their home opener as the Cowboys haven't won one since moving into their new stadium two years ago.
The Cowboys stay at home the first week of October to host the Detroit Lions, whom they beat last year 35-19 in Jason Garrett's second game as a head coach.
If the Cowboys can take advantage of this stretch, they should be in the NFC East hunt through the first month of the season.
After a bye in Week 5, the Cowboys get a serious test facing the Patriots in Foxboro. This should provide a way for the Cowboys to see where they stand against one of the best teams in the league and let them know where they need to improve to make it deep into the new year.
On October 23rd the Cowboys face an improving team in the St. Louis Rams. The Cowboys can't take this game lightly because although the Rams are a young team, they're hungry and out to prove to the league that they have arrived and should be feared.
Seven days later the Cowboys have another Sunday Night Game on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles won the free agency title and because of that Rob Ryan wasted no time crowning them as the all-hype team. The Eagles will remember that, so the Cowboys and especially the defense will have to be on their A game. Otherwise, it could get ugly fast and Ryan could be eating his words.
Then comes December, where the Cowboys start against the Arizona Cardinals, a team they've struggled to beat on the road the last two times. A blocked put for an overtime TD in 2009 and a missed PAT by David Buehler last season have ruined otherwise winnable games for the Cowboys against their former NFC East counterpart.
Next the Giants come to big D for their first matchup of the season. In the last two years the Giants have gotten out to fast starts but have fallen apart towards the end of the season, and the Cowboys hope to keep that trend going this season.
On December 17th the Cowboys go to Florida for a Thursday night game with the Buccaneers, another team on the rise.
The Cowboys wrap their season up with back-to-back division games at home against the Eagles and on the road New Year's Day versus the Giants. These two games could determine where the three teams fall within the division and in the NFC playoff picture.
Although the Cowboys have overcome their past December woes two years ago, there's no doubt analysts will use these two games to determine whether the Cowboys have truly exercised their December demons.