Schedule More Difficult than it Appears

What a difference a year makes! The 2004 schedule released Wednesday offers the Cowboys several opportunities to make a run at a championship. Or does it?

A quick look at the 2004 schedule will let you know a couple of things right off the bat.

One, the Cowboys find themselves playing on Monday Night Football three times this year. That's the first time that's happened since 1999.

Two, the Cowboys will play seven of their first eight games against teams that did not make the playoffs last season.

Sounds good doesn't it?

Not so fast. You'll hear point number two spoken another 1,000 times this offseason, but don't be fooled.

Last year, the Cowboys opened with 5 of their first 8 opponents making the playoffs, on their way to a 7-2 start. But a late season "slump" saw the team win only three of it's next 7 games.

This season, the schedule appears to be exactly the opposite, at least on paper, but a closer inspection yields one to believe that this schedule is far from a walk in the park.

The Cowboys first Monday night test, at Washington, will be against a team that figures to be vastly improved now that the "old ball coach" is gone, and Joe Gibbs is back.

The Cowboys finished 10-6 under first year head coach Bill Parcells in 2003. 2004 looks easier on paper, but don't be fooled.
Home games against Pittsburgh and the Giants will be anything but easy, and the season opener against Minnesota (on the road mind you) is against a team that was one play away from clinching a playoff spot last year.

Nevertheless, the Cowboys will still likely be favored in at least 6 of their first 8 games, and if things go according to plan, the team could be in a position to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night in mid-November with an NFC East title on the line.

The Thanksgiving game this year will be against the Chicago Bears, a team that hasn't scared anyone in the league since 2001. It will also be the first time Dallas has played Chicago on Thanksgiving since 1981.

December 19th, the Cowboys travel to Philadelphia, where the Eagles have had Dallas' number for quite some time. In fact, Philadelphia had beaten the Cowboys six straight times before eeking out a 23-21 win last year at Texas Stadium.

In Philadelphia, the domination has been even greater, with the Eagles winning 5 in a row, highlighted by last year's 36-10 romp.

Last year, the Cowboys opened with 5 of their first 8 opponents making the playoffs the previous year, on their way to a 6-2 start. This year, the competition appears to be just as tough, despite the fact that several of the early season draws are against teams that barely missed the playoffs.

Minnesota (road), Cleveland (home), Pittsburgh (home), Cincinnati (road) are all playoff caliber teams, and Green Bay (road), a team that actually reached the postseason last year, is always a tough place to play.

A further breakdown of playoff teams the last two years will show you that reaching the postseason the year before, hardly yields success a year later.

In fact, of the 12 teams that reached the playoffs last year, only 2 of 6 teams from the AFC that reached the playoffs in 2002, did so again last year, and only 2 of 6 teams from the NFC, did so again in 2003.

So don't be fooled.

While the 2004 schedule make look softer on paper, the road doesn't get any easier for the Dallas Cowboys.

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