Dallas Cowboys schedule analysis

Breakdown: The good news is head coach Jason Garrett should get a nice opportunity to start fast in his first full season on the job. After opening the season with a Sunday night game against the New York Jets -- the first of their five prime-time contests this year -- the Dallas Cowboys can look forward to three straight games against teams that finished 2010 with losing records -- the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions. The bad news is that Dallas might be in big trouble late in the season if they’re trying to contend for a playoff spot. Road games at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Giants (in the season finale) don’t bode well. A Dec. 24 matchup at home against defending division champion Philadelphia Eagles could also be tough contest to pull out.

On the flip side, there is hope coming off the bye, especially since Dallas will have two weeks to prepare for a road trip to New England. The other opponents the Cowboys will meet outside the division also aren’t ominous, with seven of those failing to make the postseason last year. In fact, Dallas has way too much talent to not capitalize on such a weak schedule. The question, as usual, is whether they’re actually going to make good on that promise.

Complaint department: Dallas fans had better enjoy the first three months of the season because the anxiety will be flowing in December. Aside from a Dec. 4 road trip to Arizona (a team that could be dangerous again if they stabilize their quarterback problems from a year ago), the Cowboys face the Giants twice, the Bucs and the Eagles. This is the time of year we’ll learn everything we need to know about this team.

Opening statement: The season-opener against the Jets will be critical for Dallas setting the right tone for this season. Rex Ryan has taken his team to two straight AFC title games and he’ll be talking plenty of mess before this one ever kicks off. If Dallas wants to prove it’s ready to put itself back in championship contention, this is the best place to start sending that message.

Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 11, at NY Jets, 8:20 PM

Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 18, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM

Week 3: Monday, Sep. 26, Washington, 8:30 PM

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 2, Detroit, 1:00 PM

Week 5: BYE

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, at New England, 4:15 PM

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23, St. Louis, 4:15 PM

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 30, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6, Seattle, 1:00 PM

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 13, Buffalo, 1:00 PM

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20, at Washington, 1:00 PM

Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 24, Miami, 4:15 PM

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4, at Arizona, 4:15 PM

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11, NY Giants, 8:20 PM

Week 15: Saturday, Dec. 17, at Tampa Bay, 8:20 PM

Week 16: Saturday, Dec. 24, Philadelphia, 4:15 PM

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM