Will the Cowboys return to the playoffs in 2020?
Written by Greg Lehr
With NFL schedules officially out for the upcoming season, it's naturally time to put out meaningless win-loss predictions that are almost guaranteed to be overly optimistic. We all do it. It’s essentially our way of talking ourselves into postseason hopes and Super Bowl dreams. Going through the Cowboys’ schedule, I try to mix that sense of optimism with a few realistic factors. For instance, a new coaching staff in Dallas with a potentially all-virtual offseason program? Plus, will Dak even participate without a new deal? These could impact the team in the first month or so. It’s a different roster too, with a seemingly stronger offense and weaker defense. With these types of factors in mind, I simply give the first thought that comes to mind while looking at each game and put my initial, way-to-early gut feelings of what might happen from weeks one to seventeen.
Week 1: at LA Rams (NBC, 8:20 p.m.)
First Thought - Jerry Jones played an integral role in helping Stan Kroenke relocate the Rams to LA. It’s only fitting Dallas is invited to the opening party for SoFi Stadium. Will Dak bring them the same house-warming gift that Eli Manning gave to Jerry in 2009?
Gut Feeling - Yes, Prescott will. Dallas has undergone major changes, but so have the Rams, especially on the defensive side of the ball. ST Coordinator John Fassel should be a huge asset facing off against his former team too. Cowboys 30, Rams 24
Predicted Record: 1-0
Week 2: vs. Atlanta Falcons (Fox, 1:00 p.m.)
First Thought - Ravished by injuries the last couple of seasons, Atlanta should be mostly healthy in just the second week of the regular season when they visit Dallas.
Gut Feeling - The new-look secondary isn’t quite up for the challenge in their new defense and they are going up against one of the best receiver duos in the league. Atlanta jumps out quick and puts Dallas in a hole they cannot get out of in the second half. A surprising home-opening loss in a shootout; Falcons 34, Cowboys 27
Predicted Record: 1-1
Week 3: at Seattle Seahawks (Fox, 1:00 p.m.)
First Thought - Never an easy draw playing up in Seattle against Russell Wilson, but the Cowboys catch a break by avoiding a primetime kickoff under the lights (games the Seahawks never seem to lose).
Gut Feeling - Dallas makes up for last week’s huge letdown by coming ready to play on the road. Zeke paces the offense and the defense catches a couple of lucky breaks down the stretch to hold off a dangerous Wilson comeback attempt. Cowboys 28, Seahawks 24
Predicted Record: 2-1
Week 4: vs. Cleveland Browns (Fox, 1:00 p.m.)
First Thought - Two of the better on-paper rosters squaring off, plus it’s Baker Mayfield playing against the Dallas Cowboys. A very underrated and intriguing matchup.
Gut Feeling - Despite the obscene amount of offensive talent in this game, my gut says the defenses will prove to be up to the challenge, keeping the scores in check on both sides. Cleveland’s upgraded offensive line wears down a frustrated Dallas defense, who pick-off Baker twice but struggle to stop Nick Chubb in the second half. Chubb makes Jerry sick with a game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter, handing the Cowboys a disappointing 0-2 start at home. Browns 27, Cowboys 21
Predicted Record: 2-2
Week 5: vs. NY Giants (CBS, 4:25 p.m.)
First Thought - Jason Garrett’s first game back in Dallas, where he will get his share boos (some deserved, some not). A video tribute will be highlighted by his two best seasons in Dallas (2014 and 2016), although ironically, each of those seasons was ended by his replacement, Mike McCarthy.
Gut Feeling - Dallas struggles out of the gate, as Garrett will have a huge influence on the gameplan against Kellen Moore and Dak’s offensive attack, but the points soon come in bunches thanks to big plays by rookie CeeDee Lamb and Blake Jarwin. Cowboys 38, Giants 17
Predicted Record: 3-2
Week 6: vs. Arizona Cardinals (ESPN, 8:15 p.m.)
First Thought - Second-year Kyler Murray with DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk? On Monday Night Football? Sign me up for this free entertainment.
Gut Feeling - This has all the makings of a shootout. Two (potentially) mediocre defenses? Loads of offensive weapons on both sides. Advantage goes to the home team in primetime, as Dak puts together his best game of the season so far by throwing for four scores and over 300 yards.
Predicted Record: 4-2
Week 7: at Washington Redskins (Fox, 1:00 p.m.)
First Thought - Really curious how the Redskins’ defense will be this year with Ron Rivera, Jack Del Rio, and a stacked front seven (seriously).
Gut Feeling - This will be a much tougher week for Prescott and the Cowboys’ offensive line on the road. Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Ryan Kerrigan should be one of the best defensive fronts in the league. However, the Washington offense leaves much to be desired. Prescott finds a way to get the ball out quicker as the day goes on and lets his playmakers do the work. Gallup explodes for 125 yards and two scores. Cowboys 30, Redskins 20
Predicted Record: 5-2
Week 8: at Philadelphia Eagles (NBC, 8:20 p.m.)
First Thought - Easily the most-heated rivalry in the division over the last several seasons, the trash talk leading up to the game will be just as bad as in the game itself.
Gut Feeling - First-rounders CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Reagor will steal a lot of headlines during the week, but it's the veterans that will be the playmakers under the lights in this divisional battle. Wentz takes advantage of the Cowboys’ secondary with his healthy* (subject-to-change) wideouts, while Zeke struggles to find a rhythm vs a stout defensive line. Dak’s comeback attempt is too little, too late. Eagles 24, Cowboys 20
Predicted Record: 5-3
Week 9: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (CBS, 4:25 p.m.)
First Thought - The last time these two teams played, Dak and Zeke led Dallas to one of their best wins in Pittsburgh during their Co-Offensive Rookie of the Year campaigns in 2016. I still see it as one of Zeke’s best games of his career (209 yds, three total TDs).
Gut Feeling - In another low scoring battle following the previous week’s loss, Prescott finds a different gear in the second half. Tony Pollard has a game-breaking play (a la Zeke’s 83-yard TD catch and run from 2016) that tilts the game in Dallas’ favor. Cowboys 26, Steelers 23
Predicted Record: 6-3
Week 10: BYE
Week 11: at Minnesota Vikings (Fox, 4:25 p.m.)
First Thought - Minnesota is never an easy place to play, but this doesn’t feel like the same defense as in recent years.
Gut Feeling - McCarthy was 9-4 in the week after the bye during his time in Green Bay, which bodes well considering he is more than familiar with Mike Zimmer’s defenses from that same time period in the NFC North. Dallas comes in prepared and ready to play, with Amari Cooper leading the charge with a few chunk plays and a touchdown. Minnesota doesn’t lay down easy, fighting back behind the home crowd, but Zeke helps secure the victory by moving the chains down the stretch. Cowboys 28, Vikings 27
Predicted Record: 7-3
Week 12: vs. Washington Redskins (Fox, 4:30 p.m.)
First Thought - Beating a division rival for the second time during the season is typically tough to do, but the gap in overall talent is still too big for Washington to overcome.
Gut Feeling - The Cowboy’s defense comes hungry to this Thanksgiving matchup, swarming Haskins from start to finish. Oh, Zeke is fed early and often in this one too. Cowboys 34, Redskins 14
Predicted Record: 8-3
Week 13: at Baltimore Ravens (Fox/NFL Network/Amazon, 8:20 p.m.)
First Thought - Primetime in Baltimore? Lamar Jackson under the lights? It doesn't get much tougher than that.
Gut Feeling - In recent years, Dallas has risen to the occasion and pulled off some huge wins around this time of year. However, the hypothetical three-game winning streak comes to an abrupt end here. A tough draw all the way around, I see Dallas struggling to keep pace with a Ravens’ offense that presents a bad matchup for anyone. Ravens 31, Cowboys, 23
Predicted Record: 8-4
Week 14: at Cincinnati Bengals (Fox, 1:00 p.m.)
First Thought - I have no idea how the Joe Burrow-led Bengals will look by week 14, but my guess is okay, not great.
Gut Feeling - With a healthy AJ Green and John Ross, plus Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon, there’s certainly some potential for a few splash plays in this offense. But I don’t see the Cincinnati defense slowing down the Cowboys’ offense too much after sitting on a loss for ten days. Cowboys 38, Bengals 28
Predicted Record: 9-4
Week 15: vs. San Francisco 49ers (NBC, 8:20 p.m.)
First Thought - Both of these teams should be in the thick of the NFC playoff race, resulting in several flashbacks of this storied rivalry during their Sunday Night Football appearance.
Gut Feeling - An expected heavyweight battle turns into an offensive shootout. CeeDee Lamb and Deebo Samuel each have big games, but it’s George Kittle who eats up the middle of the field all night, where the Cowboys simply have no answer for arguably the best tight end in the game. Niners kick a gut-wrenching game-winner with under a minute to go. 49ers 33, Cowboys 30.
Predicted Record: 9-5
Week 16: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (Fox, 4:25 p.m.)
First Thought - This feels like the most important game on each of these teams’ schedules. Playoff hopes and/or seedings are expected to be on the line.
Gut Feeling - Another hard-fought game between these two rivals, but this time Dak Prescott makes up for the week-sixteen debacle from a year ago in Philadelphia, which caused Dallas to miss the playoffs. Cooper makes up for it too. Cowboys 27, Eagles 23
Predicted Record: 10-5
Week 17: at NY Giants (Fox, 1:00 p.m.)
First Thought - The Giants won’t have much to play for at this point, but the Cowboys will for playoff seeding purposes.
Gut Feeling - Ironically, I could see this game being a lot tougher than expected if this is the case. The Giants will badly want to avenge their earlier loss as well as build momentum for 2021. Similar to the Redskins though, Dallas just has too much firepower. Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb combine for an explosive performance through the air for Dak, ending the regular season on a high note. Cowboys 34, Giants 27
Predicted Record: 11-5, NFC East Champs