Is home field key for Dallas Cowboys?

The Dallas Cowboys have lost a Week 17 game that decided the NFC East title in each of the past two seasons, and both times that game was a road game for them -- one in New Jersey against the New York Giants and one in Landover, Md., against the Washington Redskins. As Jean-Jacques Taylor points out in today's column on ESPNDallas.com, that can't happen this season, because the Cowboys' Week 17 game (against the Philadelphia Eagles) will be at home.

The Cowboys also open at home this year, and only once will they play road games on consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' schedule appears set up for maximum comfort with regard to staying at home. The question that Jacques raises, though, is whether this is actually a good thing for the Cowboys:

Bottom line: The Cowboys must do better at home. They've won two division titles since 2007. Both times the Cowboys went 6-2 at home.

The past three years, they're only 11-13 at home. Only Carolina (8-16) and St. Louis (9-14) have worse home records in the same span.

Dallas is only 4-5 at Cowboys Stadium against the NFC East the past three seasons. Clearly, this ain't Texas Stadium, a place that had mystique.

Much has been written about the Cowboys' struggles in their new home stadium as they have struggled for consistency in recent seasons. Everybody has a theory -- it's not loud enough, it makes opponents feel too comfortable, there are too many distractions, etc. But Jacques is right that those issues simply need to stop mattering. The Cowboys' 2013 schedule looks light on taxing travel and seems to set up well for them to contend for and make the playoffs if they can handle their business at home.

It's entirely possible that that business will include a need to beat the Eagles in the season finale at Cowboys Stadium -- whether the Eagles are contenders or not. The NFC East has been tightly bunched in recent years and has had a habit of going down to the final weeks. The Cowboys beat the Eagles in the season finale in 2009 to claim the division title when both teams already had qualified for the playoffs. The year before that, they lost 44-6 to the Eagles in a game that determined a playoff spot. (Though we now know that was beyond their control, since Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper were having their big dance contest that same day.) So there's plenty of history here that will be brought up if the season once again comes down to the final game for the Cowboys. This time, though, it'll be a home game. It's up to them to make sure that's an advantage.