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A tough road lies ahead for the Dallas Cowboys, but should they really be afraid?

IRVING -- If they don’t already, the Cowboys will rue the day they decided to collectively not show up in St. Louis and lose by 20 points to the Rams.

NFL schedules aren’t loaded with many freebies, and this was as close to "on-the-house" as it gets.

Of course, the Cowboys blew that and that loss could very well blow up their postseason plans.

And please shelve the idea that the return of Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Kyle Kosier and Terence Newman for the game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 16 is a guaranteed cure-all. Tight end Jason Witten finally admitted as much on Thursday.

“We’ve struggled, even with Tony out there, we didn’t play our best football and I think we understand that,” Witten said. “It’s not going to be easy road when he gets back. This team needs to collectively understand that.”

Understand this -- pretty soon, the Cowboys are really going to need wins. And there aren’t many guarantees on this schedule.

Half of the Cowboys' remaining eight games are against the NFC East, which is the only division in football where every team has a winning record. And three of those games are on the road. The combined home records of the Giants, Redskins and Eagles? A healthy 10-3.

The Cowboys have only two dogs remaining on their schedule -- the 49ers and Seahawks are a combined 4-11 -- while the remaining opponents are all above .500. Of course, the Rams were a dog and we all know how that ended.

The Cowboys needed that win, because six of the Cowboys’ final eight games come against teams with a combined record of 31-12.

If the Cowboys could put together a 5-3 record in the second half of the season, it should put them in the playoffs and in a position to fulfill their goal of not collapsing. At least not in December.

A lot will have to go right, starting by handling what is the best division in football.

New York Giants (6-1)

at New York, Sunday; vs. Dec. 13

Reasons to be afraid:

a. The Giants' defense ranks fourth in the NFL.

b. The Cowboys can't expect to generate 172 yards of offense and win against the Giants.

c. The Giants lead the NFL in rushing, averaging 157.3 yards per game, and are plus-5 in turnover margin.

Reasons not to be afraid:

a. The Cowboys have won their past two road games against the Giants.

b. As demonstrated in a win against the Bucs, the Cowboys defense can actually stop offenses.

c. Law of averages, maybe? I'm struggling on this one. Maybe because the Giants are heavy favorites the Cowboys will do as 'dogs do in the NFL and win.

Washington Redskins (6-2)

at Washington, Nov. 16

Reasons to be afraid:

a. The Cowboys haven't won in Washington since 2004.

b. The Redskins aren't beating themselves. Quarterback Jason Campbell has eight touchdown passes this season, and no interceptions.

c. The Redskins provided the Cowboys their first loss of the season when Clinton Portis ran for more than 100 yards.

Reasons not to be afraid:

a. Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Kyle Kosier, Anthony Spencer and Terence Newman are expected to return in time for this game.

b. The Cowboys will be coming off their bye week. They are 14-5 in the week following their bye.

c. See a and b.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-3)

at Philadelphia, Dec. 28

Reasons to be afraid:

a. Did you watch the World Series? That was October weather and it was brutal. Three days after Christmas in Philadelphia should be especially horrendous. As a rule of thumb, warm weather teams don’t fare too well in the cold air.

b. The Eagles are tied for the NFL lead in turnover margin at plus-7.

c. The Eagles can claim that they were the better team in Week 2 when they lost to the Cowboys at Texas Stadium.

Reasons to not to be afraid:

a. Eagles running back Brian Westbrook will officially be out for the game. I don’t know this, of course, but since he’s always hurt it seems like a safe guess. And without Westbrook the Eagles don't fly.

b. Donovan McNabb will do something to screw this up.

c. The Cowboys will have everything to play for and will win there for the third time in the last four tries in Philly.