Breakdown: Despite not having made the playoffs since 2009, the Cowboys remain a popular national team with five prime-time games. But if they are to stop the playoff-less streak, they will have to start fast and hold the fort late in the season. Three of the Cowboys' first five games come against teams that did not make the playoffs last season: at the Tennessee Titans, at the St. Louis Rams and at home against the Houston Texans. The other two home games are against two of the best teams in the NFC in the San Francisco 49ers (Sept. 7) and New Orleans Saints (Sept. 28). Because of their Nov. 9 trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys don’t have their bye week until Nov. 16, but the close of the season is particularly tough with four of their last six games coming on the road with trips at the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and finale at the Washington Redskins.
Complaint department: The schedule maker did not do the Cowboys any favors with their Thanksgiving matchup with a night game at the Giants. The Cowboys will not get back to Dallas until early Monday morning with a short week to get ready for the Eagles. The Cowboys shouldn't have to play a road game the week before the Thanksgiving matchup, and playing a night game is borderline unfair. The Cowboys will not get their customary 10-day break until after they play at the Bears on Dec. 4. The Cowboys had a similar Thursday-Thursday schedule in 2007 when they finished 13-3. They can only hope to be as fortunate in 2014.
Not safe at home: AT&T Stadium has not created the home-field advantage the Dallas Cowboys have craved since moving into the $1.2 billion facility in 2009, and the Cowboys will be tested at home in 2014. The Cowboys welcome four playoff teams from 2013 to Arlington: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Indianapolis and New Orleans. Plus Arizona won 10 games last year. The Cowboys have beaten the Giants just once at home since 2009 and Houston has more talent than its 2-14 record indicates. The Cowboys are 22-18 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium. The easiest formula to make the playoffs is to win your home games and split them on the road. That will be a tough case for the Cowboys in 2014.
Strength of schedule: The Cowboys have the second-toughest schedule in the NFC East based on 2013 winning percentage, following the Washington Redskins (No. 17, .490). The Philadelphia Eagles won the division last year and have the 20th-ranked schedule (.490).
Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Washington, 1 p.m.