Let’s flashback for a moment to January 28, 1996. The Dallas Cowboys exited the field at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, victorious. Winners of their third Super Bowl in four seasons after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX, the dynasty in Big D was in full effect. Unbeknownst to Jerry and the ‘Boys at the time, that celebration would mark the last time they tasted victory in a Super Bowl to date.
Super Bowl 50 is set to take place on Sunday, February 7, 2016, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, home to the San Francisco 49ers. A full 20 years will have passed since the Cowboys won their last NFL Super Bowl, let alone visited one. But with the Cowboys’ increasingly strong prospects, could this be the year the drought comes to an end in Big D?
First off, let’s take a look at how they might fare in the NFL regular season. Based on the 2015 NFL strength of schedule rankings, the Cowboys have the ninth easiest schedule in the league this upcoming season. Sounds promising, but let’s dig into the schedule a little deeper.
Six of their games are against divisional rivals New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins. Throw records out the window any time these teams line up because they will be dogfights. Best case scenario, let’s call it a split with the Giants and Eagles, and a sweep over the organizationally challenged Redskins for a record of 4-2 in these games.
The 10 remaining games on the schedule look pretty daunting at first glance. Four games look especially challenging.
- Week 4 @ New Orleans
- Week 5 vs. New England
- Week 8 vs. Seattle
- Week 14 @ Green Bay
If the Cowboys can escape those four games with a record of 2-2, it would have to be considered a success. The remaining six opponents are a mix of potential NFL playoff teams and teams in transition. In the interest of not being too overly optimistic, let’s call it a record of 4-2. Even then, we have to expect a hiccup or two, even against a lesser opponent. Add it all up, and we have a record of 10-6.
The odds makers in Las Vegas also go to the trouble of projecting out win totals for each NFL team prior to the season. The Cowboys are currently projected for 9.5 wins, right in line with our estimate of 10. Sticking with the Vegas theme, the ‘Boys 9.5 wins are tied for best in the NFL’s NFC East with the Eagles and behind only two other teams, the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks – both projected for 11 wins. Based on this information, the Cowboys have a solid shot to secure the division crown, but a first-round bye may be out of reach.
In a perfect world, the Cowboys will nip the Eagles for the NFC East title and place themselves in line to host a first-round playoff game. Assuming that goes well, a second-round date with either the Packers or Seahawks would be the most likely outcome. Both teams have incredibly tough home environments, and although the possibility of an upset exists, the smart money says the Cowboys will exit the playoffs in the second round for the second consecutive year.
Vegas also posts early Super Bowl odds for the coming season, and it paints a similar picture for the Cowboys. The club is third most likely to reach the NFC Championship game at odds of 13-2, just ahead of the Eagles and behind the Seahawks and Packers. For the Super Bowl itself, Dallas checks in at odds of 15-1, behind only the two NFC powerhouses and the AFC’s New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.
Bottom line: The Cowboys will need everything to break just right to escape the NFC. They line up with both the Packers and Seahawks during the regular season, victories in one or both would be absolutely huge for their chances of securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Circle Week 8 and Week 14 on your calendars, Cowboys fans, because these games will help put the forecast for Santa Clara into focus.
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