With training camp approaching, each NFL team will begin their quest to win Super Bowl LII. Along the way, they will have to overcome injuries, complacency and a minimum of 16 regular season games. For the Dallas Cowboys, they will be looking to build off a promising 2016 campaign that ended two games shy of the Super Bowl. To reach the big game, they will have to go through several teams who are positioned to make their own Super Bowl run. Let’s examine which teams on the Cowboys’ schedule will present the biggest challenge.
Division Challenger: New York Giants
Matchup: Week 1 (Sept. 10th @ 7:30pm CDT); Week 14 (Dec. 10th @ 3:25pm CDT
Location: (Week 1) AT&T Stadium; (Week 14) MetLife Stadium
Analysis: The Cowboys finished 2016 with a spectacular 13-3 regular season record. However, they went just 3-3 in the division. One of those losses was in a meaningless week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, the other two defeats were both against the New York Giants. The first step for the Cowboys in 2017 is to defend their NFC East Crown from a season ago. To do so, they will need to handle business against their toughest division opponent on paper.
NFC Challenger: Green Bay Packers
Matchup: Week 5 (Oct. 5th @ 3:25pm CDT)
Location: AT&T Stadium
Analysis: The Cowboys will need to exercise some playoff demons to make a Super Bowl run in 2017. One of those demons is the Green Bay Packers. The Packers ended the Cowboys’ season in 2014 and again last season. In 2017, Dallas will get an early shot at Aaron Rodgers and Co. This match-up will be a good litmus test for the Cowboys’ defense, and a potential playoff preview.
NFC Challenger: Atlanta Falcons
Matchup: Week 10 (Nov. 12th @ 3:25pm CDT)
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Analysis: The Cowboys will be looking to advance to the NFC Championship game for the 1st time since 1995. Along the way, they will run into the 2016 NFC Champions; the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons will be a tough opponent for the Cowboys. After blowing a 25-point Super Bowl lead, the team will be looking to reverse its’ fortunes as they open up their new stadium in 2017. As a result, the Cowboys are sure to face a raucous environment when they venture to Atlanta for their week 10 match-up. This match-up should have playoff implications. Additionally, the game could have an impact on the MVP race, as defending MVP Matt Ryan will lead the Falcons against Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Co.
AFC Challenger: Oakland Raiders
Matchup: Week 15 (Dec. 17th @ 7:30pm CDT)
Location: Oakland Coliseum
Analysis: Although an out-of-conference opponent, the Oakland Raiders will be a difficult match-up for the Cowboys. The Raiders have a promising offensive core of their own. However, they have another element the Cowboys are missing at first glance, a premier pass rusher. To counter, the Dallas Cowboys are built to run the ball, which can keep Oakland’s best defender Khalil Mack at bay. Playing on the road late in the season, the Cowboys will need Ezekiel Elliott to be at the top of his game, in what looks like a potential Super Bowl preview.
NFC Challenger: Seattle Seahawks
Matchup: Week 16 (Dec. 24th @ 3:25pm CDT)
Location: AT&T Stadium
Analysis: The Dallas Cowboys look positioned to make the playoffs in 2017. However, there are several NFC teams who are in the same boat. The conference is stacked with talent. The Falcons, Packers, Giants, Buccaneers, and Lions are looking to make repeat playoff appearances. So are the Seattle Seahawks. After a dominant run that culminated with two Super Bowl trips and a Super Bowl trophy, the Seahawks failed to make the NFC Championship game for the second straight season. They will be leaning on their defense to carry them back to the top of the NFC in 2017. The Cowboys will be looking to show the Seahawks who the new leader is in the conference. Late in the season, both teams could be fighting for playoff seeding, so this will be a crucial game on the docket for the Cowboys.
In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys are positioned to reach heights that haven’t seen since the ‘90s. If the team is to make a Super Bowl run, they will need to overcome several challengers. In addition to the teams listed above, the team is destined to face a surprise team that no one is expecting to make a run. That is what the Cowboys were in 2016. Now, it’s time to be the top dog in 2017.