At 10-1, and coming off a thrilling Thanksgiving victory over the rival Washington Redskins, the Dallas Cowboys are sitting pretty with a 2-game lead in the NFC East, and the entire NFC. Still, the team is focused on following the words of their Head Coach Jason Garrett, in only focusing on putting the best version of themselves out there every single day, and focusing on the variables that the team can control. One of those variables is their remaining regular season schedule. While the team won’t want to look past any game, we as followers of the team can play the look-ahead game and try to see what challenges lie ahead for the Cowboys as the calendar flips to December. With 5 games left to go in the regular season the NFC East, the first-round bye, and home-field advantage all are still up for grabs, and the team’s pursuit of those accomplishments are still in full force.
The Cowboys’ next challenge won’t come until Thursday, December 1st when the team travels to Minnesota to face the Vikings. Minnesota, once owners of a 5-0 record, have fallen back to the pack in the NFC playoff picture, with a record of 6-5. This game can still provide challenges for the Cowboys, as Minnesota has a fast, physical defense led by talented players such as LB Eric Kendricks, LB Anthony Barr, CB Xavier Rhodes, and FS Harrison Smith. The Cowboys have a league-leading rushing attack and a quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over. It will be crucial for the team to continue those trends against the Vikings to improve to 11-1.
After the Vikings, the Cowboys will stay on the road, as they will have probably their toughest game of the 5, as they will face the New York Giants. The Giants, who have won 6 straight and own an 8-3 record, handed the Cowboys their only loss of the season way back in week 1. The Cowboys have improved as an offense since that game and will hope to prevent Odell Beckham, Eli Manning, and co. from getting into a rhythm on Sunday Night Football. If the Cowboys win this game, they will almost absolutely lock up the NFC East division title, and, assuming they handle Minnesota, may also secure their first-round bye at this point, with a record of 12-1.
With seemingly their toughest 2 remaining games out of the way, the team will travel back home for the following 2 games. In week 15, the team will play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the team’s only remaining 12PM CDT start time. Looked at as a “gimme” game earlier in the season, the Cowboys will have to be careful against the Bucs, as Tampa Bay has won their last 3 games to move to 6-5, and are right back in the conversation for a playoff spot and even the NFC South title. Led by All-Pro Receiver Mike Evans, and an underrated defense, the Buccaneers could be an interesting matchup for the Cowboys, as the Cowboys have a rash of injuries in the secondary. If the team can contain Evans and force sophomore quarterback Jameis Winston into making mistakes, the team stands a good chance of pushing their record to 13-1, which would match the team’s all-time regular season win total.
After the Tampa Bay game, the team will have a potentially significant matchup on Monday Night Football in week 16 as they host the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions, who currently sport a 7-4 record. Coming off their own victory on Thanksgiving, the Lions, who were 1-3 at one point, have reeled off a 6-1 mark over their last 7 games. Led by a potential MVP Candidate in Matthew Stafford, who has had his share of comeback victories over the Cowboys, the Lions will present a tough matchup for this Cowboys defense. The Cowboys will hope to prevent Stafford from being comfortable in the pocket, and may potentially have nothing to play for in this game if they clinch home-field advantage prior to the Monday night matchup. Still, the team has had monster success playing at home this year, and have the right offensive personnel needed to match Detroit’s offensive output. If the team plays to their ability, they stand a good chance of setting a record for most regular season victories in franchise history, with a record of 14-1.
Heading into the final week of the regular season, the team will travel to face a familiar foe, in the Philadelphia Eagles. In their week 8 matchup, the Cowboys had a thrilling come-from-behind overtime victory and sent the Eagles further into their midseason spiral. Once the early NFC East division leader at 3-0, the Eagles have sputtered to a 5-5 record pending their next game’s results against Green Bay. Thus, the Eagles have fallen back to the last place in the NFC East and will need a strong push over the next month if they hope to be in the playoff race by the time they face Dallas in week 17. The obstacles potentially preventing the Cowboys from winning this matchup would be Philly playing for pride, a playoff spot, or even the Cowboys choosing to rest their starters in a potentially meaningless matchup. However, if the team chooses to play their starters with the first-round bye secured, and the hope of Ezekiel Elliott setting rookie rushing records in this game, the Cowboys may very well put their best players on the field, and would stand a good chance of moving to 15-1.
So, there you have it. While there is still a lot of work to do, the Cowboys are in a prime position to continue their magical run, and could be looking at setting franchise and personal records as the calendar turns to December, and as the playoffs rapidly approach. Stay tuned to Pro Football Spot for all the latest news and information surrounding the Dallas Cowboys, and the rest of the NFL.
Jared Wingate is a local Dallas resident who is passionate about 'dem Cowboys! He is also a Broadcast Journalism major. Subscribe and follow him on Twitter @wingate_jared.