- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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With the 2013 schedule now released, we look at five key games for the Cowboys:
Sept. 8 vs. New York Giants: The Giants have never lost at Cowboys Stadium. Never. Ever. Never. Ever. Could that change in the season opener? It's the Cowboys' first Week 1 game at home since 2007. In that contest, the Cowboys beat the New York Giants, 45-35. For New York, beating the Cowboys in Week 1 would be revenge after losing in Week 1 in 2012 to the Cowboys, the night the Giants received their Super Bowl rings. Getting off to a strong start is important for the Cowboys, given their struggles at the end of the season.
Oct. 6 vs. Denver: The Cowboys have beaten Peyton Manning the last two times they've faced him, but that was when he played for the Colts. This time, Manning brings the Denver Broncos to town with a new weapon in wide receiver Wes Welker. With a rather easy September schedule gone, facing the Broncos will be a good early-season test for the Cowboys' secondary and pass rush. Manning is one of the best at getting rid of the ball quickly, so defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will need to pressure the pocket.
Oct. 13 vs. Washington: It doesn't matter when these NFC East rivals meet, it's a special contest. Add Robert Griffin III to the equation and you might have an early-season letdown by the Cowboys. It's these games early on that have hurt the Cowboys in the past, whether it's Jason Garrett messing up clock management or Tony Romo committing major turnovers. The Cowboys have to win games like this. It's uncertain how Griffin will play given the type of knee injury he sustained, but the Cowboys have to contain him to win.
Nov. 10 at New Orleans: The Saints are angry. They lost their head coach and one of their best defensive players to Bountygate. Sean Payton has returned and, while he's been humbled by the year-long suspension, believe he wants to beat the Cowboys. The Saints knocked off the Cowboys last year when the game didn't mean anything to them. Guess what happens this year? Romo is an excellent quarterback in November, posting a 21-4 mark, and if the Cowboys start their annual playoff run, it starts here in the Superdome.
Dec. 29 vs. Philadelphia: The regular-season finale has been dreadful for the Cowboys the last two seasons. Losses in the last two finales have cost the Cowboys playoff berths. Will this game mean the same thing? Will it get flexed to a Sunday night game? If the Cowboys want to reach the postseason, beating Chip Kelly's Eagles at this stage of the year could mean everything. Yes, again.