The last two weeks have been insane for sports fans.
Major League Baseball had its Opening Day, the NCAA Tournament came to a dramatic close, The Masters happened, Kobe Bryant retired with an epic swan song, the Golden State Warriors accomplished the greatest regular season in NBA History, the NHL Playoffs are happening, and the NBA Playoffs are about to tip off.
In the middle of all of that... the NFL still managed to make itself relevant.
Never mind the fact that the Los Angeles Rams traded with the Tennessee Titans for the right to the First Overall Pick (the history of which I wrote about earlier this week here at Inside The Star), a trade which can benefit the Cowboys, I'm talking about the release of the 2016 NFL Schedule.
Think about that for a second. In the midst of all the greatness happening across the other major American sports, the significance of the release of the NFL schedule managed to be among them. The schedule! This is literally just dates on a piece of paper! The NFL is king.
All 256 games of the 2016 NFL season are now set and ready to get going. All we have to do is put up with the NFL Draft, OTAs, offseason waiting, Training Camp, and Preseason! Hooray!
When we finally get to the light at the end of that long tunnel our great big Inside The Star family will have arrived at the Dallas Cowboys 2016 Season, and specifically the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Schedule. Now that we know it we can start looking forward to it, right?
We'll have you covered with Game Previews here at Inside The Star sooner rather than later, but today we're here for a different reason. Before all of this schedule release excitement got underway, I predicted the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Schedule for you here at Inside The Star. I managed to get four games right, 25% for the math fans, and nailed the notion that the Cowboys would play on Thursday Night Football following their Thanksgiving date against the Redskins.
That's why we're here today - to analyze the aspects of the schedule, not the games themselves. Let's begin.
Cowboys-Giants Week 1... Again?
There were several trends in terms of the Dallas Cowboys schedules dating back as far as the NFL's realignment in 2002 that I factored into my prediction.
Dallas has opened up at home just five times since 2002, three of those contests coming against the Giants, but has kicked off in their own backyard each of the last three seasons. Considering that two of the last three openers have been at home to the Giants, Week 1 of the schedule is quite a chin-scratcher. This will mark the fourth out of fifth season that the Cowboys face the Giants in the season opener.
Cowboys-Giants is a big ratings draw for the NFL, and it's becoming quite the tradition for it to be Week 1. The NFL somewhat spared the country from the same Sunday Night Football game to start the season for the third time in four years when they put this at the three o'clock window. For what it's worth the last time the Cowboys didn't open on Primetime was in 2014 when they got blasted by the 49ers. That season worked out so I'd say this bodes well.
Two Division Games Out The Gate
Since the 2002 realignment the Dallas Cowboys have only started with two division games once, and that was in 2015.
The Cowboys went 2-0 in those 2015 games, but lost both Dez Bryant and Tony Romo so were unable to fully capitalize on the advantage that an early lead like that would provide a team; however, it's not hard to ponder on how big of a leg up that can be to a team.
New York and Washington are both very winnable games for the 2016 Cowboys (providing there is full health... and even then the unhealthy Cowboys almost beat the Giants and did beat Washington). The Cowboys have started off a season 2-0 three times in the Tony Romo era (2007, 2008, & 2015) so it's certainly doable. Doing it in 2016 would poetically put the Cowboys at the point where their 2015 season fell apart... a 2-0 overall/division record.
Week 5 AFC Opponent At Home (Cincinnati Bengals)
Seven out of the last nine seasons the Cowboys have faced an AFC Team in Week 5. Five of those have been at home, three of them coming in each of the last three seasons.
This one was very predictable and the NFL actually slotted the Bengals in the exact same week as when they last traveled to play the Cowboys per the rotation in 2008, only that game was at Texas Stadium. We saw this one coming a mile away.
5 Primetime Games
The NFL has a maximum number of times that a team can appear on primetime - that amount is five. For the twelfth consecutive year, the Dallas Cowboys appear on primetime the maximum allowable amount.
The Cowboys are the NFL's cash cow. People love them. People hate them. Regardless of how people feel about America's Team... they care about America's Team one way or another.
6 "Big Stage" Games
If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know about this little nugget of information.
Yes, the Dallas Cowboys have five primetime games. That's awesome. And its indicative that they are indeed still, and will always be, America's Team. But there's more to this puzzle.
A standard NFL Sunday includes around ten games at noon. This is the boring slot for teams to be put in. Why is it boring? ...there are around ten games going on. The NFL puts its least marketable teams in this window because they can't carry a big stage on their own. Think of each window of games as a television show. The NFL puts all the bad actors together so that there's at least a lot going on. The good actors get their own shows (bigger stages).
The best slot that isn't primetime is the three o'clock window of Sunday games. Typically there are three or four games going on so there is less competition for viewers. This is where you see FOX's traditional America's Game of the Week with Troy and Buck and CBS's top crew with Nantz and Simms. This is the big show.
So Cowboys have 5 games where they'll be the only one on, 4 games where they'll share stage with 2, and 2 games where they'll share with 3.
The Cowboys are on primetime five times which leaves 11 other games on the schedule. They are in the three o'clock window six of those games. Four of those they are one of three games and two of those they are one of four games. That's as close to primetime as you can get. That means that the Cowboys will play in the "boring" slot only five times. The Eagles play in the "boring" slot ten times, that'll put a smile on your face!
Thursday Night Football Following Thanksgiving Against The Vikings
This was a big point in my schedule prediction.
Each team gets the "luxury" of playing on TNF. As the Cowboys already play on Thanksgiving Thursday and considering that the NFL has 18 "Thursday Night Football" games that can only happen in a time span of 14 weeks, they result to some weird stuff like playing some on Saturdays. That's a whole different beast.
The NFL won't make the Cowboys, or Lions for that matter, play a TNF game early in the season and then do it again on Thanksgiving. It's unfair to put them through that short week twice.
This is why I predicted that the Cowboys would play on TNF following Thanksgiving. This allows the Cowboys to still have a full week of rest after Thanksgiving and doesn't compromise their rest routine. This happened to the Cowboys in 2014 when they traveled to Chicago after a Turkey Day showdown against the Eagles.
December 11th On Sunday Night Football Against The Giants
In the rich history between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, they have only played each other on December 11th once.
That fateful day was on December 11th, 2011 and the game was on NBC's Sunday Night Football, and it was a rough one for Cowboys Nation. Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a Dan Bailey Field Goal and the Giant Win served as a springboard for New York's Super Bowl XLVI Championship run.
Hopefully that history doesn't repeat itself five years later as the Cowboys and Giants will tango on December 11th under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football once more. This game will be in New York and the last time the Cowboys played there on SNF Jason Pierre-Paul got blocked by Tyron Smith twice as Tony Romo threw the game-winning touchdown to Dez Bryant.
Monday Night Football Finale
No NFL season would be complete without the Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun of Monday Night Football accompanying America's Team.
This season Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden will be fresh off of Christmas when they call the Cowboys and Lions matchup on December 26th. The last time that the Cowboys and Lions squared off at AT&T Stadium was during a 2014 Wild Card Playoff Game, which the Cowboys won in epic fashion.
The NFL hasn't typically given the MNF gang that great of a game lineup, but this one has potential to be special. Of course, the Cowboys will hope to have clinched the NFC East by this point in the season so maybe that's the NFL's way of setting up the ultimate tease.
Thanksgiving Kicks Off Primetime Ride
You can see from the last few points that everything from Thanksgiving on is essentially primetime.
The Thanksgiving Game by definition isn't primetime as it happens at three o'clock, but it's closer than anything else. What's interesting is that 3/5 of the Cowboys' games after Thanksgiving are all in primetime.
This sets the Cowboys up to be in the spotlight during the December days that really matter. If the Cowboys, and subsequently the Eagles, make them matter enough then Dallas could actually find itself with an extra primetime game if their season finale gets flexed to Sunday Night Football.
Here lies more proof not only that the Cowboys are and will always be America's Team, but that the NFL expects them to be good in 2016. There's an awful lot of faith put into a team that has 60% of its final five games in primetime.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
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