The Dallas Cowboys were one of 2014's most pleasant surprises, winning the NFC East crown and qualifying for the playoffs, but repeating that feat won't be easy due to what looks to be a very challenging schedule.
While 2014 was a down year for the NFC East, it is almost always an extremely competitive division. Add in games against teams like the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers as well, and going 12-4 for the second consecutive season could be a tall order.
The Cowboys are undoubtedly a talented team, though, which should make for an extremely interesting 2015 campaign.
On the heels of their schedule release, here is a look at the Cowboys' entire 2015 slate (via NFL.com) and some further analysis regarding the most intriguing matchups to watch.
|2015 Dallas Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||Sep. 13||vs. New York Giants||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|2||Sep. 20||at Philadelphia Eagles||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|3||Sep. 27||vs. Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m.||Fox|
|4||Oct. 4||at New Orleans Saints||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|5||Oct. 11||vs. New England Patriots||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 25||at New York Giants||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|8||Nov. 1||vs. Seattle Seahawks||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|9||Nov. 8||vs. Philadelphia Eagles||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|10||Nov. 15||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|11||Nov. 22||at Miami Dolphins||1 p.m.||Fox|
|12||Nov. 26||vs. Carolina Panthers||4:30 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Dec. 7||at Washington Redskins||8:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|14||Dec. 13||at Green Bay Packers||4:25 p.m.||Fox|
|15||Dec. 19||vs. New York Jets||8:25 p.m.||NFL Network|
|16||Dec. 27||at Buffalo Bills||1 p.m.||Fox|
|17||Jan. 3||vs. Washington Redskins||1 p.m.||Fox|
Top Matchups to Watch
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Games between the Cowboys and Eagles are always intense, but they will be kicked up to another level this season due entirely to the fact that running back DeMarco Murray left Dallas in favor of Philadelphia.
There is no question that Murray was a huge part of the Cowboys' success in 2014, as he rushed for over 1,800 yards, but Dallas ultimately decided against re-signing him. According to ESPN.com's Todd Archer, owner Jerry Jones is still comfortable with the team he has.
We have great receivers. We have a great quarterback. We have a great offensive line. We're trying to get more defense so you have to make some tough decisions. We felt like this was our best decision or we wouldn't have done it. Certainly, our players and everybody in our organization understands the concept that you can't have everything.
While it was ultimately the Cowboys who opted against signing Murray, there still may be some bad blood among Dallas fans. Murray made the leap to one of the team's chief rivals, and it is unlikely the Cowboys faithful will react well to that.
Murray also didn't do himself any favors by reportedly asking quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut, per Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News:
It is tough to blame Murray for wanting his piece of the pie, but asking someone else to sacrifice could be construed as selfish by some.
Fans won't soon forget how the Murray situation played out, and it will make for a massive game when he returns to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers
The Cowboys and Packers are no strangers to competing in some great games against each other, and they added another one to the list last season in the NFC playoffs when Green Bay escaped with a 26-21 win at home to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Dallas seemed to be in position to pull off the upset at Lambeau Field, but what looked like a catch by Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was controversially ruled incomplete late in the game, allowing the Packers to take the victory.
That loss certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of Cowboys fans, but they will have an opportunity to gain some measure of retribution when Dallas travels to Green Bay to face the Packers during the 2015 regular season.
The game will have a slightly different look without Murray in the fold, but it will feature a pair of excellent offenses with Romo, Bryant and Jason Witten going up against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
This could be one of the season's marquee games, and what happened in the playoffs makes it even more compelling.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers
As big of a loss as Murray was for the Cowboys this offseason, they may have secured an equally big gain on defense by signing defensive end Greg Hardy.
Hardy missed almost the entire 2014 season after being placed on the commissioner's exempt list for his alleged involvement in a domestic violence case. He certainly comes to Dallas with some baggage, but he has proven to be a dominant pass-rusher when he plays.
According to NFL on ESPN, Romo believes Hardy deserves a chance to prove himself with the Cowboys:
The Panthers felt quite differently, and owner Jerry Richardson made that clear after Hardy signed with Dallas, per Howard Eskin of 94WIP Radio:
Carolina has tried to separate itself from the Hardy situation as much as possible, and while it certainly has every right to do that, one can only assume Hardy will be somewhat revenge-minded when the Panthers come to town.
He has a lot to prove this season both in terms of his behavior off the field and his performance on it, and he will be quite motivated to have a big outing against his former team.
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