A schedule can mean a lot of things to different people.
We can all recall back to getting the schedule on the first day of school. You’d check with your buddies to see if you guys had any classes together and how much ground you had to cover.
If you don’t have a set one, you get a work schedule on a frequent basis. You’re always scanning it to see what days you have off so that you can plan around that. Our lives depend on schedules.
There’s only one schedule that we Cowboys fans really care about though, and that’s the one that tells when the Cowboys are going to be tossing around the ‘ol pigskin. Typically the NFL schedule doesn’t come out until mid-April, but since you’re a loyal Inside The Star reader we decided to reward you! Congratulations!
Building the NFL schedule is an enormous task that supposedly takes a hundred people, eighteen thousand hours, special elves, and Santa’s reindeer. The schedule makers have to coordinate with each team’s stadiums, weather, and traveling considerations so that nobody is going all over the country. Fortunately we’re not trying to build the 256-game schedule that those dudes are, we’re just talking about the Dallas Cowboys.
You might be wondering how we’re even able to predict the schedule in the middle of March. Allow me to give you a quick refresher course on how each team’s schedule is structured as a result of the NFL’s re-alignment in 2002. We’ll use the Cowboys as the example here.
Each season the Cowboys rotate divisions from both conferences to play. In 2015 they played the NFC South and AFC East, in 2016 they will play the NFC North and AFC North. That’s half of their games right there. Six games come from their divisional opponents as three are at home and three are on the road, now we’re up to 14 total. The remaining two come from the divisions within the conference that we are not playing on rotation, which in 2016 are the NFC South and NFC West. We play the teams that finished in the same place in their division as we did in ours. The Cowboys finished 4th in the NFC East last year so they will play the NFC South and NFC West teams that finished 4th in their respective divisions.
In terms of home and away games, the rotational division games alternate. Last time the Cowboys played the AFC North for example they traveled to Baltimore and Cincinnati. They will host those two this season. The same goes for the NFC division that they play on rotation, and they obviously get each divisional opponent at home. The final home game comes from the conference team that they are not playing on rotation, per last year’s NFL Record And Fact Book that is the NFC South team in 2016.
This is all very visible if you go back and look at the old Dallas Cowboys schedules with two exceptions that I’d like to provide some clarification for:
- The Cowboys played the AFC West in 2009 and 2013. In 2009 they traveled to Denver and Kansas City. This meant that in 2013 they should have traveled to San Diego and Oakland, but that was not the case as the Cowboys traveled to San Diego and Kansas City again. This is because the NFL instituted an addendum to this whole process in 2010 that prevents a team from having to make two west coast trips while another team in their division would not have to make any. As the Cowboys were scheduled to visit San Diego and Oakland, and those are both West Cost teams, an adjustment was made and Oakland was swapped out with Kansas City to rectify the situation.
- The same instance occurred when the Cowboys played the NFC West in 2008 and 2011. In 2008 they traveled to Arizona and St. Louis, so they should have traveled to Seattle and San Francisco in 2011. As those are both West Coast teams the same adjustment was made and Seattle was swapped out with Arizona.
Here are the opponents for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys:
|Dallas Cowboys 2016 Opponents||Home||Away|
|NFC North||Chicago Bears||Green Bay Packers|
|NFC North||Detroit Lions||Minnesota Vikings|
|AFC North||Baltimore Ravens||Cleveland Browns|
|AFC North||Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|NFC East||New York Giants||New York Giants|
|NFC East||Philadelphia Eagles||Philadelphia Eagles|
|NFC East||Washington Redskins||Washington Redskins|
|NFC South/NFC West||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Francisco 49ers|
I’ve put together what I believe the 2016 Dallas Cowboys schedule will look like. I obviously can’t guarantee 100% accuracy on this, but there are some things that I feel especially confident in:
The Dallas Cowboys Will Open On The Road
Since 2002 (the re-alignment, that year will be referenced a lot) the Cowboys have opened up just five times at home, and three of those contests were against the New York Giants; however, they have opened up the last three seasons at home. It seems like it might be time for them to kick their season off in someone else’s house as four years in a row seems very unlikely.
This could offer an unusual sight for Week 1 concerning the Cowboys. As I believe that they’ll be on the road, and the game will be in early September, the Cowboys could be wearing their road blue uniforms.
The Cowboys opened up the 2006, 2008, and 2009 seasons on the road all while rocking those navy blues against the Jaguars, Browns, and Buccaneers respectively.
The Bye Week Will Happen No Later Than Week 6
Since the re-alignment the Cowboys have had their Bye Week by Week 6 nine times. In fact four of the last six seasons they’ve had their Bye Week in Week 5 or 6. Additionally the Cowboys had the same Bye Week in 2011 and 2012 (Week 5) as well as 2013 and 2014 (Week 11).
This is a trend that we can almost bank on and assuming it’s true then the Bye Week will actually be Week 6 as it was during the 2015 season.
The Cowboys Will Play On The Road Following Their Bye
As we are examining every season post the re-alignment that leaves 14 seasons for us to look at, and 14 games following the Bye Week. 11/14 of these Bye Weeks have been followed up with a game on the road for the Cowboys.
In fact not only have 11/14 of the games immediately after the Bye been on the road, but the last five in a row have all been on the road! You can bank on this one.
The Cowboys Will Play The Giants IN New York Following Their Bye
Dallas has jumped out of the Bye Week into the arms of the New York Giants four times since 2002. What’s particularly amazing is that each of the last three seasons the Cowboys have packed up and hit the road for New York after their week of rest.
If you’re not already scratching your chin then let me toss one more detail out there, the Cowboys have played the Giants in Week 7 each of the last two seasons. Considering that they are likely to have their Bye by Week 6 this continues to make sense.
If you close your eyes you can see that cool November evening on Sunday Night Football where Tyron Smith dominates Jason Pierre-Paul over and over again. It’s beautiful.
Dallas Will Host An AFC Team In Week 5
A lucky seven out of the last nine seasons have featured the Cowboys playing an AFC Team (five of those at home) in Week 5. The only two instances where they didn’t play an AFC Team were in 2011 and 2012 and that’s because the Cowboys were on a bye during Week 5, but they did follow that up with an AFC opponent in Week 6 both of those seasons.
For the last three seasons in a row the Cowboys have hosted an AFC opponent at AT&T Stadium during Week 5. Look for that to continue in 2016.
The Cowboys Will Host The Redskins On Thanksgiving
This has been in the works since the Super Bowl to be totally honest. It’s a popular game that will draw a national crowd and an easy lock. With rumors of it already swirling, it’s hard to count against.
The Cowboys Will Play On Thursday Night Football The Week After Thanksgiving OR A Late Season Saturday Night Game
This one is kind of tricky, so buckle up.
The NFL recently renewed the rights to Thursday Night Football with CBS and also brought in NBC to the fold. The two networks will both have five TNF games apiece while eight games will be broadcasted exclusively on NFL Network. That’s 18 total games.
Over the last few years Thursday Night Football has, for the most part, been divisional games between teams. Each team is guaranteed at least one appearance on TNF, although it’s not as much of a guarantee for a benefit as it is an institution to keep things fair so that everyone has to go through it. With division games on TNF it keeps things nice and simple for the schedule makers as they just do two per division and tie a bow on it. This logic is benefited by a Cowboys/Redskins Thanksgiving matchup. That serves as a “Thursday” game for the two clubs involved, so you can expect the Giants and Eagles to play on one as well (likely a late season Saturday Night Game). It’s for that same reason that you can also expect the Lions to play an NFC North team in their Thanksgiving Game.
Staying within this TNF/Thanksgiving discussion we need to remember that there are 18 “Thursday Night Football” games, and that technically there isn’t a Thursday Night Football game during Week 1, the week of Thanksgiving, or Week 17. That means that there are 18 games that will happen in 14 Football Weeks. As there are only 14 available Thursdays there will be Saturday Night Games, and likely two games on two Saturdays that the NFL chooses (likely late in the season). So we’ll have 12 weeks with just a Thursday Night Football game on a Thursday, and we’ll have two weeks where we have a TNF game on that week’s Thursday plus two on that week’s Saturday. That gets us to 18 total games.
As the Cowboys and Lions natively play on Thanksgiving every year adjustments have had to be made surrounding them. In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys played on the Thursday after Thanksgiving so as to give them a full week’s rest. The Lions went through the same exact thing in 2015, while in 2015 the Cowboys were given a “Thursday Night Football” game on a Saturday late in the season against the New York Jets.
The big networks have touted that this season of Thursday Night Football will feature some interesting matchups. I could see a scenario where the Cowboys play the NFC North team that the Lions play on Thanksgiving on the Thursday after Thanksgiving so that both teams are given a full week of rest (just like the Cowboys and Bears in 2014).
The Cowboys Will Play The Eagles Within The Last Three Weeks Of The Schedule
10 times since 2002 the Cowboys have played the Eagles either in Dallas or Philadelphia during the final three weeks of the season. These two division rivals, shockingly, played each other for the final time as early as Week 9 last season.
Cowboys/Eagles is a great draw with a ton of drama, and seemingly always something on the line. The NFL will put that back near the finale of the season.
The Cowboys Will End The Season At Home Against The New York Giants
In 2010 the NFL decided that Week 17 would feature entirely division games. As divisions are waiting to be clinched at that point that adds a significant amount of drama to the week even though other teams have already clinched first round byes and things of that sort. It’s a great tactic to keep things interesting all the way through the regular season.
Since that 2010 decision the Cowboys have closed out their season against the Redskins three times, the Eagles twice, and the Giants once. They’ve done so against both Philly and Washington on the road and at home, but the lone time they ended against New York came in New York in 2011 with the NFC East on the line (which the Giants would win on their way to a Super Bowl XLII victory).
If the schedule makers are abiding by the rules of fairness and just going in order of things then it is time for the Cowboys to end the season at home against the G-Men.
An astute Twitter follower of mine pointed out a startling weakness in my projected schedule.
@rjochoa A correction for you. in your Cowboys mock schedule, you have them vs Giants in week 7. Giants play Rams in London that day.
I would like to apologize for this oversight. You trust us here at Inside The Star for quality analysis, and I let this one slip through the cracks. It won’t happen again!
With that said, I have updated my projected schedule. I believe that the Cowboys bye week will be Week 6, but the Giants playing in London throws a wrench in the ability to play them in the week after the bye. Some regularities have to be sacrificed and I believe that this will be the one. You can see the mock schedule after the break below.
Taking all of those things into consideration I have put together what I believe has a very real chance to be the 2016 Dallas Cowboys schedule, or something very close to it.
|2016 Dallas Cowboys Schedule Prediction||Opponent|
|Week 1||@ Washington Redskins|
|Week 2||Chicago Bears|
|Week 3||Baltimore Ravens|
|Week 4||@ Minnesota Vikings|
|Week 5||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Week 7||@ San Francisco 49ers|
|Week 8||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Week 9||Detroit Lions|
|Week 10||@ New York Giants|
|Week 11||@ Cleveland Browns|
|Week 12||Washington Redskins (Thanksgiving)|
|Week 13||@ Green Bay Packers (Thursday Night Football)|
|Week 14||@ Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Week 15||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Week 16||@ Philadelphia Eagles|
|Week 17||New York Giants|