Cowboys open with Giants, play Chargers on Thanksgiving Day in rugged slate

If the Dallas Cowboys hope to put together back-to-back playoff seasons for the first time since 2006-2007, they must overcome a rugged 2017 schedule.

It surely will test the mettle of Dak Prescott in his second full season as the team’s quarterback but first with fate of the organization resting squarely on his shoulders.

The Cowboys already knew their opponents for the 2017 season, with their opponents’ .531 winning percentage last season tied for 10th in strength of schedule. They officially got the dates and times when the NFL released the schedule Thursday night.

The Cowboys open the season with two of their first three games on the road and end it with three of their last four away from AT&T Stadium.

They have actually have two stints of three of four games on the road.

In addition to having three of the final four on road, the Cowboys open December against the powerful likes of the New York Giants, the Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks, who had a combined 2016 record of 33-14-1. That’s a .687 percentage.

As expected, the resurgent Cowboys, 13-3 a year ago, will live in prime time and late afternoon, starting with the Sunday night season opener at home against the Giants on Sept. 10.

The matchup has proved to be a ratings bonanza for the NFL, which pairs the Cowboys and Giants in an opener at AT&T Stadium for the third consecutive season. Last season, the Giants-Cowboys opener on Sunday afternoon was the third-highest rated (15.5) game of the regular season and drew the fifth-most viewers (27.5 million).

Dallas lost that opener 20-19, but they beat New York in 2015 and 2013 at AT&T Stadium.

It’s the fifth time in the past six years the two teams have started the season against each other.

The Cowboys have five prime-time games in addition to the Thanksgiving Day affair with the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 23.

The schedule leaves open the possibility for one of their December games, including a noon game Dec. 31 at Philadelphia, to be flexed to Sunday night.

Of particular intrigue will be the Nov. 5 home game against the AFC Kansas City Chiefs, not so much for the opponent but because it will be broadcast by CBS. That means that former quarterback Tony Romo will likely work a Cowboys game as broadcast analyst for the first time. He will get a return engagement on Thanksgiving Day as the AFC Chargers visit.

Might the Cowboys do something to honor Romo at one of these games?

For the third time in four years, the Cowboys will play back-to-back Thursday games. After the Thanksgiving Day game, the Cowboys host the Redskins. They beat the Redskins and Vikings in back-to-back Thursday games in 2016 and lost to the Eagles and beat the Bears in back-to-back Thursday games in 2014. They also played back-to-back Thursday games in 2007.

For those concerned about the holidays, the Cowboys host the Seahawks on Dec. 24 and end the season at the Eagles on Dec. 31.

Here’s a look at the schedule:

Sept. 10: vs. Giants, 7:30 p.m., KXAS/ 5

The Cowboys open at home against the Giants for the third consecutive season. The Cowboys get a win after being swept by the Giants in 2016. Win.

Sept. 17: at Broncos, 3:25 pm, KDFW/ 4

Imagine the hype if former QB Tony Romo hadn’t quit and instead signed with Denver. Remember, the Cowboys wanted Broncos QB Paxton Lynch over Dak Prescott in the 2016 draft. Cowboys win again. Win.

Sept. 25: at Cardinals, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

The Cardinals aren’t the Super Bowl contender of a couple of years ago, but they will be a tough out at home. Running back David Johnson is just as talented as Zeke Elliott. Win.

Oct. 1: vs. Los Angeles Rams, Noon, KDFW/4

The Rams are starting over with a new coach and still do not know what they have at quarterback. As Pacman Jones once said, “It’s the Rams, dude!” Win

Oct. 8: vs. Packers, 3:25 p.m., KDFW/ 4

Until the Cowboys solve their pass-rush woes, they have no chance of slowing down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The nightmare continues. Loss.

Oct. 15: Bye

Oct. 22: at 49ers, 3:05 p.m., KDFW/ 4

This shouldn’t be much of a contest with the 49ers starting over with a new coach and a new quarterback and little talent. Enjoy the wharf. Take in the sights. Win.

Oct. 29: at Redskins, 3:25 p.m., KDFW/ 4

The Redskins lost a lot of firepower with the departure of DeSean Jackson. They will still score points, but they have no one to strike fear. Win.

Nov. 5: vs. Chiefs, 3.25 p.m., KTVT/ 11

The Chiefs will be the main attraction. But the biggest intrigue will be former QB Tony Romo in the booth for CBS calling a Cowboys game for the first time. Loss.

Nov. 12: at Falcons, 3:25 p.m., KDFW/ 4

The Falcons have the offense to keep up with the Cowboys. They will be at home in their new stadium. The Cowboys have no answer for Julio Jones. Loss.

Nov. 19: vs. Eagles, 7:30 p.m., KXAS/ 5

The Cowboys swept the Eagles a year ago. Philadelphia should be better and improved with coach Doug Pederson and QB Carson Wentz in their second year. But it’s not enough. Win.

Nov. 23: vs. Chargers, 3:30 p.m., KTVT/ 11

The Chargers seem to be in rebuilding mode with new coach Anthony Lynn. But QB Philip Rivers gives them a puncher’s chance. Too much Zeke, though. Win.

Nov. 30: vs. Redskins, 7:25 p.m., KXAS/5

The Redskins will be motivated to avoid a second consecutive season sweep. Yet, they still have no answers for the Cowboys duo of Dak and Zeke. Another Kettle jump? Win.

Dec. 10: at Giants, 3:25 p.m., KDFW/ 4

The Giants swept the Cowboys a year ago. Adding receiver Brandon Marshall to play opposite Odell Beckham should light up the scoreboard at home. Loss.

Dec. 17: at Raiders, 7:30 p.m., KXAS/5

The Raiders are a legitimate Super Bowl contender and this could be a big-game preview. Oakland has elite talent on both sides of the ball and the black hole. Loss.

Dec. 24: vs. Seahawks, 3:25 p.m., KDFW/ 4

Seattle hasn’t been the same since Marshawn Lynch retired. The defense remains potent, but the Seahawks no longer strike fear. Dak and Zeke prevail. Win.

Dec. 31: at Eagles, Noon, KDFW/ 4

Wentz and Prescott will battle for years to come. Wentz still needs a little more help to make this an even matchup. Win.

Clarence Hill: 817-390-7760, @clarencehilljr