Tell me if this sounds familiar: Dallas playing for the NFC East title on the final night of the regular season. It happened for the third straight year in 2013 and for the third straight time the Cowboys were beaten. This time it was 24-22 at home against Philadelphia with Tony Romo out injured following back surgery. Kyle Orton was solid enough in his spot, throwing for 358 yards and two scores, but he also threw a late interception that sealed the loss. Here is the best statistic ever of how mediocre the franchise has become under owner/GM Jerry Jones: Dallas is 136-136 since the start of the 1997 season.
The Cowboys were a fine offensive team last year, ranking No. 5 in points at 27.4 per game. Romo's season rating of 96.7 was one of his best as he completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards, 31 touchdowns and only 10 picks. Dez Bryant proved he was one of the NFL's top-five receivers with 93 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 scores. Running back DeMarco Murray had his best year with 1,121 yards rushing and eight TDs. The defense was arguably the worst in team history, though, allowing a league-high 415.3 yards per game.
Key Offseason Moves
Somehow head coach Jason Garrett kept his job, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin lost his. Oh, he wasn't fired, which seems normal for every other team. Instead he was given the different title of assistant head coach/defense. No one knows what that actually entails. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was promoted to coordinator. The Cowboys also will use a third different offensive play-caller in three years this season: Scott Linehan was hired to replace Bill Callahan in that role. Yet Callahan is still around too.
The Cowboys lost two of their best defensive players to free agency in end DeMarcus Ware (six sacks), who was released for not taking a pay cut, and tackle Jason Hatcher (11 sacks). Receiver Miles Austin and center Phil Costa also were let go. The only significant player Dallas added, as the team was tight against the cap, was former Bears Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton. He's coming off a torn ACL that limited him to three games in 2013.
2014 Schedule (all
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.
Dallas has a schedule that ranks as the 18th-toughest in the NFL with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .488. It has six games against playoff teams.
The Cowboys are 3.5-point home underdogs at sportsbooks for Week 1 against the 49ers. They are the biggest home dogs for the opening week. Dallas was 5-3 at home last year but dropped its last two in gut-wrenching fashion. The Cowboys haven't played the Niners since winning 27-24 in overtime Week 2 of the 2011 season in San Francisco. The next four games on the schedule aren't too bad. The Titans, Rams and Texans all finished below .500 last year, and the Saints usually aren't the same team outside the Georgia Dome. However, Dallas was slaughtered 49-17 in New Orleans last year. That was the game the Saints had an NFL-record 40 first downs and franchise-record 625 yards of offense.
That matchup against Seattle will be the fourth time in five years the Cowboys have faced off against the defending Super Bowl champion. They split with the Giants in 2012 and lost to the Saints in 2010. The first division game isn't until Week 7 and Dallas swept two close games with New York in 2013. The Giants had seven turnovers in their 36-31 season opening loss at AT&T Stadium, Eli Manning's first-ever defeat there. The Cowboys also swept the Redskins a season ago and didn't play Arizona or Jacksonville.
After the bye things toughen up considerably. Every road game could be played in wintry conditions. The schedule-makers did the Cowboys no favors in that they have a Sunday night game before the quick turnaround Thanksgiving game against Philly. It's the first time those two have played on the holiday since 1989. The Cowboys were crushed in Chicago last season on a very cold night, 45-28. The Bears scored on their first eight possessions.
NFL Free Picks: 'Under' 8 wins. As usual, the Cowboys are more glitz than substance. The offense should again be solid enough, as long as Romo is fine off that major back surgery. Hard to see how the defense is any better. Another non-winning season should mean the end of Garrett's tenure and perhaps Jones fires himself as GM (doubtful).