Dallas Cowboys

2018 schedule analysis: Are the Cowboys headed toward another 9-7 season?

The Dallas Cowboys expect to get a full season of work out of running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2018.
The Dallas Cowboys expect to get a full season of work out of running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2018. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

The Dallas Cowboys remain America’s Team. It doesn’t matter if they’ve made only two playoff trips in seven full seasons under coach Jason Garrett.

Five prime-time games highlight the 2018 schedule, including a Week 2 match-up against the New York Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. That is the first of three prime-time games at AT&T Stadium, along with a Nov. 5 match-up versus Tennessee on ESPN’s Monday Night Football and a Nov. 29 game versus New Orleans on Fox’s Thursday Night Football (simulcast on NFL Network).

The other prime-time contests are Sunday night games at Houston in Week 5 and at Philadelphia in Week 10.

The Cowboys open the season on the road at Carolina. It marks the first time since 2012 that the Cowboys will start on the road.

Another highlight game is versus the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, the second time in three years for that match-up.

Here’s a full analysis of the schedule with way-too-early game predictions. For now, we’ve got the Cowboys finishing strong and going 9-7 again. The question is whether that'll be enough to get them back in the playoffs. Time will tell.

Week 1 (Sept. 9) at Carolina (3:30 p.m. FOX): The Cowboys will take the field for the first time without Dez Bryant. At least the Panthers had a middle-of-the-road secondary unit last season, but Cam Newton will give the Cowboys' defense fits.

Prediction: Loss (0-1)

Week 2 (Sept. 16) vs. New York Giants (7:20 p.m. NBC): The Giants have the No. 2 overall pick and could use it on the top running back prospect, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, who could revive a stagnate offense. So could former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant. But the Cowboys win their home opener.

Prediction: Win (1-1)

Week 3 (Sept. 23) at Seattle (3:25 p.m. FOX): The Seahawks are in a remodeling mode, at least defensively, but still have the hard-to-contain Russell Wilson at quarterback. The Seahawks got the best of the Cowboys last season, and that continues into 2018.

Prediction: Loss (1-2)

Week 4 (Sept. 30) vs. Detroit (noon FOX): Will new coach Matt Patricia have the Lions defense playing at a higher level? You can already pencil Matt Stafford in for another 4,000-yard season, but give the Cowboys the edge here.

Prediction: Win (2-2)

Week 5 (Oct. 7) at Houston (7:20 p.m. NBC): Deshaun Watson looked like the real deal last season before an ACL injury. Oh, and the Texans still have a guy named J.J. Watt, who has endured two consecutive injury-plagued seasons. This has the makings of a loss.

Prediction: Loss (2-3)

Week 6 (Oct. 14) vs. Jacksonville (3:25 p.m. CBS): The Jaguars have suddenly become Super Bowl contenders with a top-notch defense, but Blake Bortles remains a mystery. Still, that defense is hard to ignore.

Prediction: Loss (2-4)

Week 7 (Oct. 21) at Washington (3:25 p.m. CBS): The Cowboys get their first look at the Redskins with quarterback Alex Smith, who is dismissively called a “game manager.” That bodes well for the Cowboys to get back on track in the nation's capital.

Prediction: Win (3-4)

Week 8: Bye

Week 9 (Nov. 5 Monday Night Football) vs. Tennessee (7:15 p.m. ESPN): Mike Vrabel inherited a playoff team from last season, but quarterback Marcus Mariota is coming off a season in which he had more interceptions than touchdowns. The Cowboys get to the .500 mark at the halfway point.

Prediction: Win (4-4)

Week 10 (Nov. 11) at Philadelphia (7:20 p.m. NBC): The defending Super Bowl champs will be eager to show off their rings to the Cowboys on this night. This won't be a memorable night for the Cowboys.

Prediction: Loss (4-5)

Week 11 (Nov. 18) at Atlanta (noon FOX): Fortunately for the Cowboys, Adrian Clayborn is headed to the Patriots and won’t be able to torment Chaz Green again. But the Falcons still have a guy named Matt Ryan.

Prediction: Loss (4-6)

Week 12 (Nov. 22) vs. Washington (3:30 p.m. FOX): A Thanksgiving Day match-up against a division rival is always entertaining. The Cowboys won this game two years ago, 31-26, and need to win again to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Prediction: Win (5-6)

Week 13 (Nov. 29) vs. New Orleans (7:20 p.m. FOX/ NFL Network): Drew Brees is 5-3 in his career against the Cowboys, but lost the last time he visited AT&T Stadium (Sept. 28, 2014). He'll find himself on the losing end again against a desperate Cowboys squad.

Prediction: Win (6-6)

Week 14 (Dec. 9) vs. Philadelphia (3:25 p.m. FOX): It seems like the Eagles and Cowboys always play a thriller in Texas and this time should be no different. But the Eagles prevail and sweep the Cowboys for the first time since 2011.

Prediction: Loss (6-7)

Week 15 (Dec. 16) at Indianapolis (noon FOX): This game won’t be on the level of Super Bowl V, but the Cowboys should have a good understanding of what new Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus (the Cowboys’ linebackers coach from 2011-17) is trying to do.

Prediction: Win (7-7)

Week 16 (Dec. 23) vs. Tampa Bay (noon FOX): What’s a nice early Christmas gift? Facing a team like the Bucs, who ranked last in total defense in 2017.

Prediction: Win (8-7)

Week 17 (Dec. 30) at New York Giants (noon FOX): The Cowboys had a successful trip last December to MetLife Stadium, rolling to a 30-10 victory. This December they hope it clinches a playoff berth.

Prediction: Win (9-7)

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