IRVING, Texas -- For a team that has lived in an 8-8 neighborhood the past three seasons and missed the playoffs in Week 17 each time, every game is a key game.
But there are five that stand out as musts for the Cowboys if they want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. And it might not be the five you are thinking of, such as the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers or the season ender against the Washington Redskins.
Let’s take a look:
Sept. 21 at St. Louis Rams: You might think this is an odd choice, but the Cowboys need to win games they are supposed to win. If this game was at AT&T Stadium, then you could book DeMarco Murray for at least 150 yards and the Cowboys winning big. Since it is in St. Louis, it will be more difficult but not impossible. The last time the Cowboys visited the Arch, they were pasted 34-14 in 2008 with Tony Romo out because of a busted pinky. The Cowboys missed the playoffs that year by one game. The Rams were a different team at the end of last season than they were when they played the Cowboys in Week 3, but if Dallas wants to be serious, then this is a game they must win.
Oct. 5 vs. Houston Texans: The Texans were 2-14 last year and have a new coach and will have a new quarterback, potentially even a rookie. But Houston has more talent than most 2-14 teams. Last year just snowballed on them and they could do nothing about it. This will be only the second trip to the area to play the Cowboys. In 2006, Tony Romo threw the first passes of his career against Houston in a 34-6 win. Why is this game important? It’s sandwiched between a visit from the New Orleans Saints, who embarrassed the Cowboys last year, and a trip to take on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys can’t afford a three-game losing streak this early in the season.
Nov. 2 vs. Arizona Cardinals: The easiest way to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. In order to have a wild-card chance, the Cowboys need to win their out of division matchups in the NFC. The Cardinals finished 10-6 last year and look like a team that can contend for a postseason spot even in a division with the Seahawks and 49ers. For the Cowboys to have wild-card hopes, they will need to hold off Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer & Co. in what concludes a three-game homestand.
Nov. 23 at NY Giants: The NFL did not do the Cowboys any favors with this game being on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which will mean the Cowboys have a quick turnaround on Thanksgiving against the Philadelphia Eagles. As much as we have discussed the Giants’ success in Arlington, the Cowboys have won three of four games at MetLife Stadium. Coming off the bye week following their trip to London to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys would be best served to continue their road success in the Meadowlands with the Eagles coming to AT&T Stadium four days later.
Dec. 4 at Chicago Bears: The Cowboys were embarrassed at Soldier Field last year and Jay Cutler didn’t even play. Josh McCown threw four touchdown passes against Dallas, and the Cowboys’ offense was equally as abysmal. It might have been the worst effort of the season. If the Cowboys can win this game, then they could gain a wild-card edge. They would also have a 10-day break before heading to Philadelphia for a key NFC East matchup at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 14.