It's long been known who the Dallas Cowboys would face in 2020, but now we know when and where each of their battles will take place, which makes for a much clearer picture of the path laid before them. Needless to say, it's yet another year wherein the organization must figure out how to bounce back from a disappointing season, as has been the case far too often in Dallas. The landscape is vastly different this time around, however, with Jason Garrett having been moved out after a decade and Mike McCarthy now sitting firmly atop the coaching totem -- . having been .
With a new head coach, Super Bowl for the first time in roughly two and a half decades, the pressure on the Cowboys to achieve that goal is arguably higher than it has been since Bill Parcells took the reins in 2003. Parcells wasn't able to deliver a sixth Lombardi to the franchise in three years of trying though, but things are lining up for McCarthy's stay to be much more luxurious., a new approach to talent acquisition and a burning desire to finally reach the
That is, of course, if the Cowboys mostly-impressive free agency andcombine to translate into a high yield on the field. For while champions of the sport are determined between the lines, those lines aren't college-rule stationery from your local Office Depot, but instead the gridiron that separates contenders from pretenders.
The 2020 NFL schedule is out, which means it's time to pick winners. Will Brinson and the Pick Six Podcast Superfriends make their Week 1 best bets and answer mailbag questions; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
William Hill Sports Book has the Cowboys' Over/Under at 9.5 games, while they're 2.5-point favorites at the Rams in Week 1 (you can check out my season prediction as well as for each game below). So, which category do the Cowboys truly fall in, given their sweeping changes?
It's almost time to find out.
Key schedule observations
- No three-game away stretch
- Four home games in the first six weeks, including a three-game home stand
- Five primetime games plus Thanksgiving
- Week 10 bye
- Combined 2019 record of opponents: 101-106
The schedule lays out fairly evenly for the Cowboys, all things considered.
They'll be challenged right from the outset when they face the Los Angeles Rams, the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks right out of the gate -- three teams that have played them passionately in recent matchups and cost Dallas some big games in the process. That said, it's impossible to ignore the level of difficulty that exists in their December scheduling, because it's an absolute gauntlet. They open the month facing a lethal Ravens team that's arguably better than one that owned the league in the 2019 regular season, and three of their remaining four games include battles with the San Francisco 49ers -- a team still fuming from their loss in Super Bowl LVI -- and their bitter division foes in the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, the latter rolling over into early January.
It would behoove the Cowboys to fire out of the gate early and to enter December with a strong lead in the NFC East, or they'll find themselves fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid missing the playoffs in McCarthy's first year; and for a second consecutive one.
Will the Cowboys make a Super Bowl run? Sportsline has you covered with game-by-game betting trends covering every angle you could want -- a full betting breakdown of the Cowboys schedule.
Los Angeles Rams
Week 1 - Sunday, Sept. 13
Location: SoFi Stadium (Los Angeles)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (Sunday Night Football)
2019 record: 9-7
Series record: 18-17 (Cowboys lead)
No stranger to being placed upon the grand ratings stage by the NFL, Jerry Jones saw his wish granted by the league and will open SoFi Stadium against the Rams in 2020. For all of the pressure leaning on the Cowboys though, there's nearly as much (if not more) being pressed against the collective face of the Rams, considering they missed the playoffs one season after having made it to the Super Bowl. Jared Goff was awarded a record-setting contract extension but the offense looked and played uneven last season, leading many to wonder if the genius of Sean McVay has been figured out, or if Goff was paid much too soon.
They've since released Todd Gurley, traded Brandin Cooks and are in the process of trying to tweak the team in all three phases, including special teams; after having lost beloved coordinator John Fassel to the very same Cowboys who'll ride into town on Sept. 13.
The Rams eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs following the 2018 season and the Cowboys got payback by virtue of a 44-21 dismantling at AT&T Stadium last December. Given the addition of CeeDee Lamb to the offense, the Rams will be hard-pressed to curb an offensive onslaught they couldn't halt without Lamb on the roster a season ago, and if the Cowboys revamped defensive line can get hands on an easily-rattled Goff -- it could make for an unforgiving opening night at SoFi.
Prediction: 40-23, Cowboys
Week 2 - Sunday, Sept. 20
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 7-9
Series record: 17-11 (Cowboys lead)
It's known as the "Burning of Atlanta," or at least that's what Jerry Jones labeled it, after seeing Dak Prescott sacked eight times in 2017 in a hapless Cowboys effort that saw them embarrassed in North Georgia. That was then, however, and this is now. For all the things the Cowboys have been forced to figure out in 2020, the Falcons haven't exactly been on cruise control. They finished with a worse record than Dallas and though they're still full of talent at key positions, they have question marks on their roster as well. And unlike the Rams the week prior, the Falcons don't have a cornerback of Jalen Ramsey's caliber jogging out of the locker room in Week 2 -- creating a considerable mismatch with the Cowboys passing attack.
After letting Desmond Trufant walk, they're hoping rookie A.J. Terrell can step in and make immediate impact. Maybe he will, but unless he can be in three places at once, he's going to need a ton of help and, in the end -- outside of Keanu Neal -- he may not get much of it in the secondary. For the Cowboys, it'll be about finding a way to contain Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, which isn't an easy task, but it can be done if Matt Ryan is forced to play hero ball thanks to a large deficit created by a struggling defense.
It's the home opener in Dallas and with a shiny new Lamb in the stable, making it hard to fathom McCarthy letting this one slip between his fingers. Ironically, Gurley escapes facing the Cowboys in Week 1 only to face them in Week 2, and he'll find running inside against Dontari Poe, Gerald McCoy and Neville Gallimore won't be an easy task.
Prediction: 35-20, Cowboys
Week 3 - Sunday, Sept. 27
Location: CenturyLink Field (Seattle)
Time: 4:25 PM ET
2019 record: 11-5
Series record: 11-9 (Cowboys lead)
It's always a bloodsport with the Cowboys square off against the Seahawks, and this season will be no different. The two sides have thrown haymaker after haymaker at each other over the past several years, and considering Russell Wilson remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league, it's safe to assume Dallas will again have their hands full stopping him from hitting game-changing targets like D.J. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have also tried desperately this offseason to repair the porous offensive line in front of Wilson and, if it works, he'll have that much more time to dissect any opposing team's secondary.
Realistically speaking, second-round pick Trevon Diggs will probably need more than a couple weeks to find his NFL legs -- as will Terrell of the Falcons -- and the jury is out on if Ha Ha Clinton-Dix can regain form under McCarthy. A potential move of Chidobe Awuzie to safety might help, but that also means depending upon another rookie in Reggie Robinson to be ready for the likes of Wilson and wily Carroll.
This is a game the Cowboys can win, but one predicated upon their offense likely having to carry them to the W. That task becomes very difficult when playing against the 12th man -- assuming there will be one, because COVID-19 -- giving the edge in this matchup to Seattle, even if just barely. And after being eliminated from the playoffs by the Cowboys in January 2019, expect a revenge-thirsty Seahawks team in Week 3 of 2020.
Prediction: 28-24, Seahawks
Week 4 - Sunday, Oct. 4
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 6-10
Series record: 17-14 (Browns lead)
Another year, another round of hype for the Browns. Things are a bit different this time around though, but not necessarily in a good or bad way, but much more in a to-be-determined outfit. After riding a wave of love following an impressive rookie season, Baker Mayfield finds himself faced with questions surrounding his true potential at the NFL level, or lack thereof. Rumor after rumor continues to surface regarding a possible trade of Odell Beckham, Jr., and although the organization continues to shoot them down as quickly as the crop up, it's just the latest controversy newly-hired head coach Kevin Stefanski must navigate around.
Stefanski, who enters his first year as an NFL head coach, joins the Browns after the team fired Freddie Kitchens following just one season with the club, and organizational shifts in the front office came tethered to the move. That's a whole lot of tectonic shifting in one offseason, and while it might pay off in the long run, it's doubtful fruit will instantly appear on the tree as early as Week 4. It's an opportunity for the Cowboys to defeat a team they should defeat, and at home, no less.
For while the Browns are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, they're still trying to figure out the leadership aspect, both on the field and in the suites looking down. Assuming Dak Prescott and the offense get off to an early lead, Mayfield will indeed try to save the day, and that's usually when the interceptions begin for him. Get two of those and use them to put up more points, and the Cowboys should leave with a smile as they enter the second game of their early three-game home stand.
Prediction: 34-17, Cowboys
New York Giants
First meeting: Week 5 (AT&T Stadium) - Sunday, Oct. 11, 4:25 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 17 (MetLife Stadium) - Sunday, Jan. 3, 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 4-12
Series Record: 68-46-2 (Cowboys lead)
Believe it or not, but the Cowboys won't face the Giants in Week 1 of the 2020 season. I know, I'm shocked as well. That said, there's a ton of hype surrounding this matchup, and for very good reason. For while Jason Garrett is no longer on the Cowboys sideline, he has indeed retreated to that of another former team in the Giants, as their offensive coordinator. He's already begun digging his footprint into New York, and hopes Daniel Jones can level up to help him form an offense that's currently fueled by all-world talent Saquon Barkley -- seeing as Garrett certainly knows what to do with a halfback of that caliber (e.g., Ezekiel Elliott).
The problem for the Giants is while Garrett knows much of the Cowboys personnel in and out and will readily share it with head coach Joe Judge, the new additions to the Dallas roster throw a wrench in his scouting measures. Furthermore, while it's justifiable to assume the Giants will finally take a step forward after several seasons of laying flat on their belly, McCarthy is more proven than both Judge and Garrett combined, and the Cowboys know the inner workings of Garrett's mind as if they're watching a Seinfeld rerun on TBS.
Blake Jarwin, now the starting tight end of the Cowboys, has been known to eviscerate Big Blue at MetLife Stadium, and so has Prescott and Elliott. When factoring all of this in, and more, it spells another round of trouble for the Giants in their attempt to take down a Cowboys team they've not beaten since 2016. Barring a begrudged reunion with Markus Golden, the Giants don't have the pass rush to threaten Prescott consistently, and that means their secondary could be under siege in both games, which then allows Elliott to have his way.
Time will tell if the offensive line is truly shored up or not, but they'll be put to the test early and often by Dallas -- to see if Jones is more Eli Manning ... or Peyton.
Week 5 Prediction: 30-14, Cowboys
Week 17 Prediction: 27-17, Cowboys
Week 6 - Monday, Oct. 19
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET (Monday Night Football)
2019 record: 5-10
Series record: 56-32-1 (Cowboys lead)
Don't take the Cardinals lightly in 2020. That's the best advice any team could carry when facing Kyler Murray and an Arizona club that slowly began turning the corner at times last season. With Larry Fitzgerald defying Father Time to again suit up for Kliff Kingsbury and having convinced the Houston Texans to gnaw off their own arm and trade DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals offense is set to do big things -- aided by the retention of Kenyan Drake. Defensively, selecting Isaiah Simmons was a jackpot move and Patrick Peterson is still Patrick Peterson until further notice.
Simply put, this won't be an easy go for the Cowboys, even though the game is in North Texas. It's a dome team versus a dome team, and there's a reason it's on the MNF platter. It should be a lights-out affair with both offenses able to put up a bundle of points, and quickly, which puts the onus on each defense to truly step up and meet the challenge. That said, the Cowboys are working on rebuilding their right edge, but the Cardinals are bringing Chandler Jones to the party, fresh off of a 19-sack season.
It feels like this one goes to the wire, and considering the Cowboys have had trouble containing mobile QBs, I'll assume they still do until I see otherwise. The only question then becomes, which side will Emmitt Smith cheer for?
I kid, I kid.
Prediction: 27-24, Cardinals
First meeting: Week 7 (FedEx Field) - Sunday, Oct. 25, 1 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 12 (AT&T Stadium) - Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 4:30 p.m. ET
2019 record: 2-13
Series Record: 73-45-2 (Cowboys lead)
You had better know going into this battle that the No. 1 job is to stop second-overall pick Chase Young. The former Ohio State pass rusher is an unbridled stud, and could hit the ground running or the Redskins from Day 1. The addition of Young makes for one of the most formidable defensive lines in the NFC East -- if not the NFC altogether -- so the Cowboys better strap on their big boy pants if they're to keep Prescott upright and Elliott/Pollard eating on-demand. Should they achieve that goal sans Travis Frederick, , they will likely have then grabbed themselves win; considering all that ails the Redskins in other areas of the roster.
It'll be the first full season wherein Dwayne Haskins can attempt to prove he's the QB of the future in Washington, but he'll do so with a defensive-minded head coach in Ron Rivera who's currently tethered to an offense that doesn't feel upgraded over 2019. There are a stable of running backs but no definitive game-changer (although Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson), and they waited until the fourth round of the draft to get a wide receiver compliment for Terry McLaurin, instead opting to use their second-round pick to add yet another RB to the aforementioned crowded room.
Questions at cornerback still loom large as well, and in a division where they must stop the likes of Lamb + Amari Cooper + Michael Gallup + Blake Jarwin, it's asking a lot for the unit to suddenly become one of the best in the league after routinely being the opposite. The Redskins might take a step forward in 2020, but nothing points to them being formidable enough to halt a Cowboys sweep.
Week 7 Prediction: 33-20, Cowboys
Week 12 Prediction: 41-17, Cowboys
First meeting: Week 8 (Lincoln Financial Field) - Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET
Second meeting: Week 16 (AT&T Stadium) - Sunday, Dec. 27, 4:25 p.m. ET
2019 record: 9-7
Series Record: 69-53 (Cowboys lead)
Here's where the rubber meets the road in the NFC East for the Cowboys, because the Eagles are certainly the other frontrunner to take the division crown in 2020. Whereas the Redskins and Giants are arguably still chasing what the Cowboys are building this offseason, the Eagles appear to be mostly in lock step. The decision to trade for and then extend Darius Slay was extremely pricey, but also extremely smart. The club needed desperately to secure a No. 1 cornerback and after Byron Jones waved them off on his way to Miami, few would argue Slay is a more-than-solid consolation prize. They also added Javon Hargrave to an already potent defensive line that includes perennial Pro Bowl talent Fletcher Cox, so the Cowboys offensive line better use their matchup against the Redskins' front to sharpen themselves for the one in Philly.
There are still questions in the secondary though, and particularly who'll step up opposite Slay and behind him in the defensive backfield. Those are the weaknesses the Cowboys will look to exploit, along with the face Ezekiel Elliott simply bowls over the Eagles every time they square off. On the opposite side of the ball, If Carson Wentz remains healthy, second-round pick Jalen Hurts won't see much playing time -- but the fact he might still see some (e.g., Taysom Hill) -- will keep the Cowboys off-balance.
The Eagles will have to stop Lamb, whom they wanted before selecting Jalen Reagor, but also Cooper and the other weapons the Cowboys can and will throw at them. Nobody plays the Eagles as hard as the Cowboys, but no one plays the Cowboys are passionately as the Eagles, and so this year's twofer screams of a split decision; with each team protecting their home field and Dallas taking what might be an all-important revenge victory in Week 16.
Week 8 Prediction: 33-20, Eagles
Week 16 Prediction: 41-27, Cowboys
Week 9 - Sunday, Nov. 8
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2019 record: 8-8
Series record: 17-15 (Cowboys lead)
Like the Cowboys, the Steelers are working to bounce back from a disappointing 8-8 season. Unlike the age-old rival, however, the latter has a ton of questions regarding the continued health of Ben Roethlisberger. The Pro Bowl quarterback is returning from injured reserve with a surgically-repaired elbow, and while Pittsburgh is confident he can return to form, they didn't grab desirable insurance in the event he doesn't. With Jameis Winston taking the seat behind Drew Brees in New Orleans, Mason Rudolph remains the QB2 in Pittsburgh, which should create some concern. For while Mike Tomlin did the best he could in Roethlisberger's absence, there simply wasn't enough firepower behind QB1 to make a difference.
As such, the Cowboys enter this matchup with a definitive edge, because if Roethlisberger isn't able to beat Father Time, there's no one else on the QB depth chart that presents much of a challenge to the new-look Cowboys pass rush. It won't be a field day for the Cowboys though, as they'll still have to contend with a talented James Connor, JuJu Smith-Schuster and newly-signed Eric Ebron -- the latter two being my assumption the quarterback (whomever it may be) can consistently get the ball in his radius. From an offensive standpoint, Prescott will need to exercise his usual caution when throwing against the Steelers, because Minkah Fitzpatrick inhales passes and the defensive front (hi, T.J. Watt) aids him in his ability to seek and take away.
This should be an entertaining matchup, but one wherein the Cowboys overpower their legacy foes in Arlington, adding to the heartbreak they dished out when Elliott delivered the knockout blow at Heinz Field in 2016.
Prediction: 24-20, Cowboys
Week 11 - Sunday, Nov. 22
Location: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
2019 record: 10-6
Series record: 16-15 (Cowboys lead)
Both of these teams know a little something about heartbreak, and football historians will readily point out the most damning stab to the chest of the Vikings came at the hands of the Cowboys and Drew Pearson decades ago, thanks to the now-legendary Hail Mary pass heaved from Roger Staubach to eliminate the Vikings from the playoffs in 1975 -- in Minnesota. There's been no love lost toward the Cowboys from Vikings fans since, and they've enjoyed their share of victory by way of winning eight of the last 11 matchups, but Dallas has begun to turn the tables recently with wins in two of the last three battles. And so while Kirk Cousins advises Prescott the franchise tag could be his best friend, it might be wiser for Cousins to hope his defense can stop the two-time Pro Bowler and former Rookie of the Year. In other words, the Vikings should stare less at Prescott's wallet and more at his pocket, as in the one he'll be throwing from.
Shipping out Xavier Rhodes was a wise move, but Minnesota is asking a lot of 31st-overall pick Jeff Gladney and 89th-overall pick Cameron Dantzler to step in and instantly shut down two 1,000-yard receivers in Cooper and Gallup, and with Lamb lurking just beneath the surface. The secondary must also account for Jarwin, Pollard and Elliott, making for what could be a tough go for the Vikings defense. Offensively, they traded away a 1,000-yard receiver of their own in Stefon Diggs, which is sure to add fuel to the fire of Cowboys rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs -- his younger brother -- as he hunts Cousins' passes.
Danielle Hunter remains a force but Everson Griffen is -- as it stands -- no longer on the roster, which weakens their pass rush considerably. A clean Prescott could find himself dissecting the Vikings defense, forcing Cousins to make mistakes as he plays catch up, and there would be some very real football poetry in a game that's sealed by a Diggs interception.
Prediction: 34-24, Cowboys
Week 13 - Thursday, Dec. 3
Location: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (Thursday Night Football)
2019 record: 14-2
Series record: 4-1 (Ravens lead)
Kick the tires and light the fires folks, because this is what primetime football is all about. The Cowboys arguably had the best draft haul of the entire NFL in 2020, but the Ravens can justifiably challenge for that honor. The bottom line is the Ravens are a 14-2 team that look upgraded for this coming season, if you can somehow wrap your mind around that possibility. It's a club that couldn't be stopped in the regular season, led by league MVP Lamar Jackson, who shows zero signs of going anywhere but up. Jackson now has added weapons, more experience, and a lingering burn after seeing his high-flying Ravens anchored by the Tennessee Titans in the playoffs.
For all the firepower the Cowboys have, the Ravens can match, if not, best them. It'll be interesting to see how a more experienced and proven McCarthy plays football chess with another sharp and equally-proven mind in John Harbaugh, and even if McCarthy outthinks Harbaugh in this game, the execution from Dallas on the field will have to be flawless to escape Baltimore with a victory.
Unfortunately for them, it probably won't be. I suspect one big play will swing the game in the Ravens' favor, but the good news is the Cowboys might then be given the ammunition they need should they face them again in the Super Bowl, because sometimes the only way to win the war is to lose the battle.
Besides, who wouldn't want to see this matchup twice?
Prediction: 38-35, Ravens
Week 14 - Sunday, Dec. 13
Location: Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
Time: 1 p.m. ET
2019 record: 2-14
Series record: 8-4 (Cowboys lead)
There's a new wave hitting the shores of the Bengals organization, and they're hoping it's one they can finally ride all the way to the Super Bowl. The name plastered across that tsunami is Joe Burrow, the first-overall pick and Ohio native tasked with digging the Bengals out of the drudges of the NFL and leading them to a deep playoff run. Burrow is everything the Bengals need and more, but realistically, it may not all come together for him and Cincinnati in his rookie season. As a matter of fact, the odds of the team going from 2-14 to a multi-win January are soundly stacked against them, but you can bet they'll give some teams a run for their money in 2020.
That team won't be the Cowboys though, and for a variety of reasons. As Zac Taylor enters the coming season, he does so with only one year's experience as an NFL head coach under his belt. Additionally, that year of experience was nothing short of abysmal, and truthfully not all of that is accountable to Taylor; but a hefty chunk of it is. Taylor will likely improve in Year 2, but McCarthy has seen it all and done it all as an NFL head coach, and the fact he's now evolved his approach to involve analytics will make it exceedingly difficult for a work-in-progress to outwit him. Add to that the weapons the Cowboys carry on both sides of the ball, and the fact Burrow doesn't play defense, and you'll rapidly get the picture I'm painting.
In due time, the Bengals could be a threat for contenders, but it'll take the Cowboys truly wetting the bed to lose this game.
Prediction: 42-21, Cowboys
San Francisco 49ers
Week 15 - Sunday, Dec. 20
Location: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (Sunday Night Football)
2019 record: 13-3
Series record: 18-17-1 (Cowboys lead)
Remember the stretch I identified as the toughest for the Cowboys in 2020? Well, here we are, staring right down the barrel of two primetime games in three weeks that have them pitted against teams who were both capable of making it to and winning Super Bowl LIV, if not for their plans having been foiled by worthy opposition. The 49ers and Cowboys know each other well from their days in yesteryear when they constantly jockeyed for NFC supremacy, and their battles are now the stuff of legend. They've even shared Hall of Famers -- from Charles Haley to Deion Sanders -- but recently the rivalry has lost its luster. That could be on the verge of changing though, if the 49ers can escape the whirlpool that usually sucks in teams who don't win the Super Bowl they appeared in (ask the Rams, for example), and if the Cowboys are truly the contenders it appears they can be.
If both teams are firing on all cylinders, this SNF fight could be a bloody one. The Cowboys are winners of four of the last five matchups -- a stat that might surprise you -- but San Francisco has one of the best pass rushes in the league and isn't afraid to let the fur fly. Outside of a strong year from Richard Sherman and one from K'Waun Williams, however, their secondary leaves much to be desired. At this point, you know what I'll say next, and it begins and ends with the potential lethality of the Cowboys passing attack/offense.
If the 49ers can't tee off on Prescott, he'll eat hearty, and it'll take a lot for Jimmy Garoppolo to play from behind against the pass rush Dallas might potentially field -- particularly if Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory pan out. Shut down Garoppolo and you shut down George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, and while that's no easy task, it's made much more so by the fact Emmanuel Sanders is no longer on the roster. Maybe first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk readily fills that seat, and maybe not, but playing the Cowboys from behind will ultimately end badly for San Francisco in this one.
There's enough firepower on the defensive line to be disruptive, but they might find that even without Frederick on the field, La'El Collins, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and Joe Looney -- who proved in 2018 he's an impactful starter -- are as good as advertised.
Prediction: 21-17, Cowboys
Final 2020 record: 12-4
Final conference record: 9-3
Final division record: 5-1