There hasn’t been a repeat champion of the NFC East since the early 2000’s when the Philadelphia Eagles won three in a row from 2002-2004. Unfortunately, history is already against the Dallas Cowboys repeating as division champions again in 2019. For the Cowboys to repeat as NFC East champs, they’ll have to navigate a tough slate of opponents.
That’s the reward of winning your division.
Though much can change in the next five months as the NFL prepares to play football games that matter in September, there are already key matchups for this young Dallas Cowboys team. We know the NFC East is always a difficult division to play in. The rivalries make for a lot of close games. The Cowboys have to play well in the division to have a shot at winning the division. But with the schedule they have, they’ll have to win some contests that they probably shouldn’t to stake their claim as Super Bowl contenders.
Divisional games are always important, but let’s take a look at the three games outside the division that will have the greatest impact on the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys 2019 season.
1. Week 4 – Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
The Cowboys have an opportunity to get off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season with games at home against the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, and a road game against the Washington Redskins. There’s a legitimate chance for them to start the season 3-0.
Whatever momentum they do gain in the first three games of the season could all come to a screeching halt with a tough week four matchup in New Orleans.
New Orleans has been a tough place to play in the Sean Payton and Drew Brees eras. The Dallas Cowboys defense will have a tough test attempting to slow down the high scoring Saints offense two years in a row.
When the two teams met in 2018, the Dallas Cowboys defense completely dominated the Saints. On that day, they held the Saints to 176 total yards (111 passing and 65 rushing) and an amazing 3 for 11 on third downs. It was especially impressive because the Cowboys only had two sacks and one turnover in the game. The Saints just couldn’t find a rhythm as the Cowboys came with a lot of energy and physicality. It was a defining moment for this young defense and gave us a picture of what they could possibly be.
If the Dallas Cowboys can find a way to win this game and potentially start the season 4-0, it would be huge for their playoff hopes.
On the flip side, if the Dallas Cowboys start the season 2-1, they could be going into New Orleans with the possibility of starting the season 2-2. The pressure would be incredible for the Cowboys the rest of the way with the slate of teams they have at the end of the season.
The Cowboys have to leave the first quarter of the season at worst 3-1 to have a shot at the playoffs in 2019.
2. Week 14 – Dallas Cowboys @ the Chicago Bears
The toughest part of the Dallas Cowboys schedule always comes around the Thanksgiving day game, and this season is no different. Starting with their week 12 game at the New England Patriots, the Cowboys will play three games in 12 days culminating with their week 14 game against the Chicago Bears.
The Bears, coming off an NFC North title in 2018, are similar to the Dallas Cowboys. They boast an incredible defense with one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and a young an improving offense.
Playing in Chicago is always a tough task, but doing so in December is a tall order. Doing so after going to New England, then playing at home, then going back on the road seems like an impossible task.
It’s a game that will likely be a grind-it-out affair, as both teams want to run the ball and play defense. Depending on what happens in the previous two games, this could be a must-win to start the final quarter of the season.
3. Week 15 – Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys
The rematch of the NFC Divisional round matchup is just another in a long line of important conference matchups for the Dallas Cowboys. It will be a very important game for the Cowboys because it will be a home game after their three games in 12 days stretch. They’ll have to go to Foxboro and Chicago in a span of 12 days, which makes for tough travel.
Facing a Los Angeles Rams team that absolutely dominated the Dallas Cowboys defense is an opportunity for redemption, but will have huge implications on the playoff standings for the NFC.
The Cowboys and Rams could both be leading their divisions at this point in the season, which would make this game important for seeding. Or, they could be fighting for a wild card berth. Either way, a conference game this late in the season has huge consequences in the way the tie breakers shake out.
This one will carry an emotional importance as well.
The way the 2018 season ended for this club, especially on the defensive side of the ball, left a lot of players — and fans — with a bad taste in their mouths. It completely changed the way a lot of people view a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major defensive categories. The loss to the Rams was one of the worst defensive performances of the season and it came at the worst time of the season.
Not only was the defense bad, but the running game was terrible that day too. Ezekiel Elliott only managed 47 yards on 20 carries for one of the worst rushing performances of his career. It took a really good second half from Dak Prescott and the passing game to get the Cowboys within one score with a shot to get the ball back at the end of the game.
If the Cowboys can get revenge for that playoff loss, it would do a lot for the morale of this team heading into the final two weeks of the season.
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These conference games will have huge implications for the Cowboys and their playoff hopes. Though the NFC East will have a bigger impact on their ability to win the division, how they fare in these three games will give us a better understanding of the legitimacy of their contender status. Each of these games is against the team that won the division the previous season. If they can go 2-1 against this quality of competition, then we’ll know this is a team to be reckoned with heading into January.