With all four preseason games in the books and the camp tents dismantled in Oxnard, it's time for both the team and fan focus to return to the greater Dallas area. The team and fan anticipation is starting to mount. What will this season hold? Can the youth infusion, blended with the experienced veterans, provide enough unity to challenge Philly for a division title? Can this team make the playoffs? How will success be measured? Is it possible to duplicate last year's record but still progress? How tolerant will Parcells be of the mistakes to be made? How patient will Jerry be with Parcells, and how much will he hang the success measure purely on record? So many questions, so little time.
Time to pull out the crystal ball for a little prognostication gymnastics. Let's take a stroll through the 2005 regular season schedule and couple it with current observations in an attempt to both translate and predict the final record when the Week 16 gun sounds. Strap it up; here we go.
Game No. 1 – Cowboys at Chargers
If the greatest uniforms known to the NFL surface, Dallas will have its hands full on the road. The powder blue bolt outfits are simply the best. This is the hatred of Shawne Merriman towards Big D (deciding to pass on his services) meeting up with the preseason phenom known as DeMarcus Ware. Did the Cowboys make the right choice? Julius aspires to LT stratosphere, but when the TCU product combines with Texas native Drew Brees, it's a little too windy for the Pokes. Chargers take the opening day battle despite the absence of Antonio Gates. 0-1.
Game No. 2 – Redskins at Cowboys
Washington doesn't stand a chance. Absent any pomp and circumstance, the Capital folks would be doomed in the Texas Stadium opener, but sprinkle in the electricity of the Triplets induction, and Joe Gibbs may just elect to stay out at Texas Motor Speedway for the duration of the season. Give us the Cowboys in a Monday night rout. 1-1.
Game No. 3 – Cowboys at 49ers
Out to the West Coast for the entire week in the Bay area. Napa Valley and football? Sign me up. The first, of two, Bay encounters is certainly the easier of the two. With San Francisco rebuilding and trying to find its feet, the Cowboys should take care of business. Julius Jones will conjure up images of Emmitt when he used to slash and bash it all over Candlestick. Cowboys get above .500 for the first time. 2-1.
Game No. 4 – Cowboys at Raiders
Welcome to the Black Hole affectionately known as The Rai-Da Nation. In the rowdier part of the Bay, the Cowboys find the going much tougher than the 3Com opponents. Old nemesis Randy Moss is on hand yet again to remind Jerry and company they should have never passed up the opportunity to draft the best receiver in the game today. Moss is on the receiving end of multiple Kerry Collins bombs, and they blow up the Cowboys in the process. Back to Big D at .500. 2-2.
Game No. 5 – Eagles at Cowboys
The barometer game, and a moment of truth in Texas Stadium. The big, bad bully from the East arrives in an attempt to duplicate the Monday night shellacking of 2004. The 3-4 is becoming the scheme absent the training wheels, and Parcells has his troops poised to reclaim NFC Eastern Division supremacy. On the foot of Jose Cortez, the Boys give their fans something to brag on until the mid-November tilt at Lincoln Financial. We're back!!! 3-2.
Game No. 6 – Giants at Cowboys
The G-men catch the Cowboys riding high in the saddle, fresh off the Philly upset, and reading their own press clippings. Plaxico Burress has Terence Newman second-guessing himself again as he heads into the locker room for half time. Parcells collects all the newspapers from the previous weeks, which are hanging all over lockers and walls. A tirade-laced, verbose Parcells snaps the team from the first half funk, and the Boys respond with a second half defensive clinic. Boys by a nose, but the wake up call was huge. 4-2
Game 7 – Cowboys at Seahawks
Back to the Space Needle in what seems like a much-too-frequent visit. Seattle's had enough of this pest, and Shaun Alexander is posed to reclaim the wayward trend for Holmgren's troops. Hasselbach is stellar, and the squad from Dallas falls in the Emerald City. Falls hard. 4-3
Game No. 8 – Cardinals at Cowboys
The funk lingers as Denny Green arrives. A lethargic week of practice has Parcells thinking he's lost his young Band of Brothers. Nothing seems to motivate them, and the bumps and bruises start to mount. Kurt Warner comes in flinging it more than wife, Brenda, does, and JJ Arrington is too quick and elusive. In the biggest disappointing loss of the season, the Cowboys revert to old ways and are .500 at the midpoint. 4-4.
Game No. 9 – Cowboys at Eagles
After the much-needed bye week, the Boys are fresh for their trip to the land of cheese steaks and T.O. stink. Unfortunately, McNabb and Owens aren't about to relinquish rights to the division on home turf. The Monday night mayhem in Philly is too much to counter. In a slugfest of "we're making a statement" proportions, the Cowboys slip at the end of the contest and fall below the Mason-Dixon line. Philly reigns. 4-5.
Game No. 10 – Lions at Cowboys
The hottest NFL commodity and high-flying act comes to Texas Stadium leading the NFC North behind the three giants on the flanks, the NFC offensive player of year candidate RB Kevin Jones, and Jeff Garcia behind center. In the highest scoring contest of the season, Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten make Mooch and company high tail it back to Motor City, the sight of Super Bowl XL. Back to the Mendoza line. 5-5.
Game No. 11 – Broncos at Cowboys
Old man Rice and the bearded clam, Jake Plummer, come calling on Turkey Day. Jake the Snake is very familiar with being uncoiled and recoiled on the Texas turf. His one and only Cardinal's playoff victory will seem like a distant memory as the Boys' two first-rounders make the mile high boys choke on their turkey stuffing. In a feast, the Cowboys grace the day of the pilgrims with a home victory. 6-5.
Game No. 12 – Cowboys at Giants
The Meadowlands contest provides the backdrop for a hopeful December run. The playoffs are possible, but Dallas must put its best foot forward and play Parcells ball control football. Riding the arm of savior Eli Manning and running of multi-talented Tiki Barber, the Cowboys encounter the Jeremy Shockey buzz saw. While no words are muttered Parcells' way this time around, Shockey displays his background of Hurricane bravado. Parcells has his work cut out for him as his club has its confidence shattered, and the rookies need the $4 million per year leadership The Tuna provides. Pick up the pieces time. 6-6.
Game No. 13 – Chiefs at Cowboys
In a game of "we aren't dead yet," the Cowboys rebound in a big way. In a huge Texas Stadium upset, with the Chiefs leading the AFC West, Marty and Priest are sent repenting and praying. DeMarcus Ware seals NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors by schooling the Pro Bowl'n Tony Gonzalez. The kid is going to be a player, and it's nice to see the #94 (circa Charles Haley) all over the field again. Somewhere, Sir Charles smiles. Bring on Portis and Capital punishment. 7-6.
Game No. 14 – Cowboys at Redskins
The Redskins are desperate to take down Dallas any way possible. This one finds Julius and Clinton Portis bottled up all day as the defenses are suffocating. It's a battle of the elements, the kickers and veteran brain trust on both sidelines. A chess match for the ages as the HOF combatants try to outsmart each other. In this classic ‘80's clash of Parcells and Gibbs, The Tuna trumps the NASCAR pit boss for the second time this year. Daniel Snyder considers ousting his long-time hero and franchise savior. The dominance of Cowboys over Redskins continues. 8-6.
Game No. 15 – Cowboys at Panthers
The showdown Dallas, especially Parcells, have pinpointed since mid-October. The test of tests with both teams smelling the post season. Surprisingly, Carolina has put a little distance between Vick and company and leads the NFC South by two with two to play. A victory seals the division for the Panthers. In a game where Jerry Jones and Parcells are reminded they let Jake Delhomme, and thus the long-term answer to the Cowboys' signal calling, get away, the Louisiana native puts on a Bayou clinic. Panthers prowl and leave Dallas clinging to playoff hopes. Only a home win can salvage their fate. 8-7.
Game No. 16 – Rams at Cowboys
The former greatest show on turf comes out of the dome to battle the Texas elements on New Years Day. The previous night's celebration continues, and Texas Stadium is as loud and cantankerous as any day in Cowboys' history. Parcells has challenged his players all week, and the press is calling it "now or never." In what may be the game deciding Parcells' future, the special teams, notably the return units, flourish on a weather-trodden Texas Stadium surface. Julius wins the battle of second year backs, and the Cowboys slip in the playoff back door amongst the continued NFC quagmire. No matter who goes, it's the AFC's show in Detroit. 9-7.
Thus, 9-7 is marked improvement from the previous campaign, and the playoff appearance provides hope for the future. With an improving squad, Parcells decides to saddle up for the final year of his contract, but he won't sign the extension Jerry has slid under his nose. Only time at the horse track and the addition of Matt Leinart in the April 2006 Draft bring The Tuna back for another swim. Revitalization is under way, and the Cowboys Nation can smell Lombardi's hardware store. Oxnard never looked so good for July 2006 arrival. Olay. What's your prediction? Take it to the boards, and let the games begin.
The Crystal Ball
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