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Looking at the Cowboys’ primetime matchups

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

Looking at the Cowboys’ primetime matchups

Nobody in the NFL plays more primetime games than the Dallas Cowboys, as America’s Team brings in viewers from across the country. While the viewership may be there, performance has not always been the best on the big stage from Dallas.

In five primetime games last season, the Cowboys went 2-3, losing to New Orleans, Minnesota, and Chicago, while getting victories over Philadelphia and New York. Going into 2020, the matchup do not get any easier, facing three playoff teams from the 2019 season.

Dallas once again has five primetime games this year, facing off against the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers. Yes, the Cowboys are used to playing on the big stage, but playing in the limelight comes against quality opponents.

Wanting to make a push in the playoffs past Divisional Round games, winning these type of games are what makes teams great. Here is a closer look at the Cowboys’ primetime opponents, what they did this offseason, and how Dallas could fare in the games.

Week 1 – Sunday Night Football @ Los Angeles Rams

Five years after moving from St. Louis and playing games at the LA Coliseum, the Rams will be opening SoFi Stadium in September. Costing around $5 billion, who better for the opening game than the Dallas Cowboys?

Since the last time these two teams met in Los Angeles, the Rams beat Dallas in the NFC Divisional round, going all the way to the Super Bowl. Their team this year will look slightly different, making some moves this offseason.

The major change came from releasing two-time offensive player of the year Todd Gurley. In July 2018, Los Angeles had given him a four year, $60 million contract with $45 million guaranteed.

Gurley’s production had taken a severe dip in 2019, mainly thanks to an injury. While Los Angeles will take be taking a salary cap hit for the running back, they saved $10.5 million by cutting him in March.

Defensively, the Rams took some damage, losing multiple starters from last season’s team. Dante Fowler and Cory Littleton left in free agency, while Nickell Robey-Coleman and Clay Matthews were cut from the squad.

Houston must have felt bad LA was losing all these players and getting nothing in return, so they sent them a second-round pick in exchange for Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round pick.

Dallas has already opened up as early favorites to spoil the opening of SoFi Stadium. Blowing the Rams out 44-21 last season, more should be on the cards this season. Los Angeles has made some questionable moves since in the offseason began and have not helped themselves in free agency.

Mike McCarthy should be able to get his Dallas Cowboys tenure off to a positive start, getting his first win, road win, and primetime win all in one attempt.

Week 6 – Monday Night Football vs Arizona Cardinals

Dallas will get their first look at former Heisman trophy winner Kyler Murray on Monday Night Football this season. Arizona has re-energized its offense since selecting the former Oklahoma quarterback and hiring young offensive mind Kliff Kingsbury.

2019 saw them jump from in the bottom five in most offensive statistical categories, up to the middle of the road. While there is still some improvement to work for the Cardinals, they have made corresponding moves to become better.

It began during the middle of the season last year, trading with Miami for Kenyon Drake. Playing in eight games for Arizona last season, the running back ran for 80.4 yards per game and had eight touchdowns. He is even a weapon in the passing game, making 28 receptions.

The big move this offseason came in a trade with the Houston Texans. Somehow, the Cardinals got 3x All-Pro wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, from the Houston Texans in exchange for David Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2021 fourth-round pick. Arizona’s receiving core of Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Christian Kirk can match up with anyone.

On the flip side of the ball, Arizona’s defense struggled mightily, allowing the most yards in the league last season. Selecting hybrid superstar Isaiah Simmons seventh overall will begin the process of improving the defense. Simmons’ ability to play linebacker, safety, slot corner, and even rush the pass rusher here and there makes him the most interesting player to watch for the Cardinals next season.

Nobody is quite sure who will be broadcasting the games for ESPN, but one thing is for sure: An offensive clinic will be put on display in Arlington. Both defenses are going to need an extra day of preparation for these offenses. The first team to 30 wins.

Week 8 – Sunday Night Football @ Philadelphia Eagles

Undoubtedly the most important prime time matchup the Cowboys will play this season, they will travel to Philadelphia to face off against their hated NFC East rivals. With New York and Washington having lackluster stretches, the Cowboys and the Eagles have been the most prominent matchup within the division.

Since Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz took over as the starting quarterbacks of their respective franchises, the Cowboys are 5-3 in the eight matchups. It had been four wins in a row for Dallas before Philadelphia won the NFC East title-deciding matchup this past December.

Despite winning the division and making the playoffs this past season, the Eagles still needed to make a few offseason moves to improve going into 2020. First, a cornerback was desperately needed to improve the defense. They were able to trade for Darius Slay, who will be assigned with covering Amari Cooper twice a season.

The next goal was to get Carson Wentz new weapons. It started in the NFL draft with their first, fifth, and sixth-round draft selections. Philadelphia selected three receivers, taking TCU’s Jalen Reagor, John Hightower out of Boise State, and Southern Miss’ Quez Watkins. In the middle of the draft, they also traded with San Francisco for Marquise Goodwin.

Past the NFL Draft and the two moves for Goodwin and Slay, mostly everything will be the same in Philadelphia. A division rival is still a division rival. The most important road game of the Cowboys’ season, getting a win would be huge in the NFC East championship race.

Week 13 – Thursday Night Football @Baltimore Ravens

One week after facing the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving, Dallas will travel to another team playing on Thanksgiving, the Baltimore Ravens. Led by the 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson and running back Mark Ingram, the Ravens are expected to get even better in 2020.

After ranking in the top five in both offense and defense, while going 14-2, Baltimore found a way to improve this offseason. Trading with Jacksonville for Calais Campbell was a big move for the defensive line, acquiring a solid pass rusher. Since 2009, Campbell has had at least five sacks every year, including 31.5 in the past two seasons.

In the NFL Draft, they addressed their linebacker position, selecting Patrick Queen out of LSU. The national champion was an instrumental part of an elite Tigers defense.

Somehow and someway, the Ravens’ offense is going to be expected to put up better numbers than last season. Drafting J.K. Dobbins as the fifth running back off the board in the second round was a steal for general manager Eric DeCosta. The Ohio State product is coming into the NFL with better collegiate numbers than Ezekiel Elliot, which is a scary thought.

Later in the draft, Baltimore was able to select Devin Duvernay and James Proche to solidify their receiving core. Nobody threw the ball less than the Ravens last season. Now, an arsenal of Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Willie Snead, Duvernay, and Proche makes the scariest team in football that much scarier.

Even if the Cowboys are in a good position this late in the season, going on the road and beating Baltimore is going to be a difficult task. Having one of the best rosters in the league with one of the best coaches in the league is always going to mix well. This game could be seen as a litmus test to determine where Dallas ranks against the league’s very best, but will more than likely come up short in this one.

Week 15 – Sunday Night Football vs San Francisco 49ers

An old, classic rivalry will be reinstalled on Sunday Night Football when San Francisco comes to town. Meeting at AT&T Stadium for just the second time since its’ opening, two of the most iconic franchises in football will face off in Arlington.

Fresh off a dominant run towards the Super Bowl, San Francisco still has a young core to make a few more championship pushes. Trading DeForest Buckner and replacing him with Javon Kinlaw in the 2020 NFL Draft makes their defensive core even younger. Nick Bosa will be entering his sophomore season after a nine sack season.

Offensively, Jimmy Garaoppolo loses wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders to the Saints and Marquise Goodwin to the Eagles, but the 49ers reloaded with Brandon Aiyuk in the first round. Seen as one of the top receivers in the Pac 12 last season, Aiyuk also can double down as a punt returner for Kyle Shanahan.

Just like the Baltimore matchup, this game could be seen as a litmus test to see where the Cowboys stack up against the top tier of the NFL. If Dallas were to make a playoff run, odds are, the 49ers will be on the path towards an NFC Championship or Super Bowl appearance.

Dallas also must be careful about this game because of what comes the next week. Philadelphia will come to town in Week 16, possibly with a division championship on the line. Taking things week by week will be important for Mike McCarthy’s squad, as every game is important in a playoff race.

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