A look at Cowboys' schedule breaks

IRVING, Texas -- Based on last year’s results, the Dallas Cowboys' 2012 schedule is tied for 11th most difficult in the NFL, but there are some breaks if you dig a little deeper that might help a team that has not made the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Here are five observations:

** To me, the toughest part of the schedule runs Oct. 14-Nov. 11 when the Cowboys play four of five games on the road (Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta, Philadelphia) and three of the five against playoff teams from a year ago (Baltimore, Giants, Atlanta). That’s why it's imperative the Cowboys open the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record. While an Oct. 7 bye week isn’t the best, having it leading up to a tough game at Baltimore is a plus. That could be a good break for the Cowboys.

** Once again the NFL did the Cowboys a favor with the Thanksgiving scheduling. The Cowboys host Cleveland on Nov. 18 before playing Washington on Thanksgiving. Just out of fairness, the NFL should make the Cowboys travel the week prior to their holiday game, but it’s only happened twice in the last 10 years. And the Cowboys get 10 days off to prepare for Philadelphia’s visit to Cowboys Stadium following Thanksgiving. That could be a good break for the Cowboys.

** The Cowboys will be done with the Giants by October. That’s a little strange considering how the NFL likes to backload division games. Actually, the Cowboys are playing just one NFC East game in the last four weeks (Dec. 30 at Washington). The last time they had it that “easy” came in 2006. That could be a good break for the Cowboys.

** Sometimes it helps that the Rangers are the Cowboys’ neighbors. With the Rangers home Sept. 16, the Cowboys will play at Seattle, giving them 11 days off from the season-opener at New York and a trip to the Pacific Northwest. That could be a good break for the Cowboys.

** Will cold weather be much of an issue? Perhaps. The Cowboys are at Cincinnati on Dec. 9 and at Washington on Dec. 30. It could be cold and snowy in either spot. Or it could be comfortable. That could be a good break for the Cowboys.