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Dallas Cowboys' schedule 2020: Fast start key for Mike McCarthy era

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The Cowboys' biggest can't-miss game on the 2020 schedule (1:24)

Todd Archer says it's tough to select the Cowboys' must-see game, but picks the team's late season matchup against the Eagles. (1:24)

The Dallas Cowboys' schedule for 2020, the NFL's 30th-hardest schedule, was released Thursday.

The regular season kicks off with the Houston Texans visiting the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, Sept. 10 (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). The opening doubleheader for Monday Night Football will feature the Pittsburgh Steelers at the New York Giants (7:10 p.m. ET, ESPN) and the Tennessee Titans at the Denver Broncos (10:20 p.m. ET) on Monday, Sept. 14.

Check out the full week-by-week schedule here. Here's what is in store for the Cowboys:

Game-by-game prediction

Cowboys reporter Todd Archer is predicting a 10-6 finish:

Sept. 13: at L.A. Rams, Loss

Sept. 20: vs. Atlanta, Win

Sept. 27: at Seattle, Loss

Oct. 4: vs. Cleveland, Win

Oct. 11: vs. N.Y. Giants, Win

Oct. 19: vs. Arizona, Win

Oct. 25: at Washington, Win

Nov. 1: at Philadelphia, Loss

Nov. 8: vs. Pittsburgh, Loss

Nov. 15: BYE

Nov. 22: at Minnesota, Loss

Nov. 26: vs. Washington, Win

Dec. 3: at Baltimore, Loss

Dec. 13: at Cincinnati, Win

Dec. 20: vs. San Francisco, Win

Dec. 27: vs. Philadelphia, Win

Jan. 3: at N.Y. Giants, Win

Strength of schedule: 30th, .459

Breakdown

If the Cowboys want to return to the playoffs in Mike McCarthy's first year as coach, they must get off to a fast start. Of their first nine opponents, only two made the playoffs last season (Seattle, Philadelphia), and the Cowboys have three consecutive home games in October that could give them energy into the second half. They will face young quarterbacks -- Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray -- during that stretch, with Mayfield and Jones playing their first seasons under new coaches. A year ago, the Cowboys needed a fast start to overcome a more difficult closing stretch, but a three-game losing streak, including one to a winless New York Jets, ultimately haunted them in their 8-8 finish in 2019.

Tough stretch

Why is a fast start a must? The three-game stretch over a four-week period at Philadelphia and Minnesota wrapped around a home game at Pittsburgh could determine if the Cowboys are a true contender. Having the bye in Week 10 will help, but when adding in the preseason, the Cowboys will go 14 straight weeks before they get a break. They can thank the Hall of Fame Game for that predicament. McCarthy will have to be mindful of his team's energy, provided there is something that approaches a normal training camp. Closing the 2020 season with two of four games against San Francisco and Philadelphia is difficult, but at least the Cowboys are at home.

Breaking in the new place

While we don't know if the game will be played because of the coronavirus pandemic, there was always the feeling the Cowboys were going to open the season at the Los Angeles Rams' SoFi Stadium. Jerry Jones played a major part in the Rams' move back to L.A. and was a major proponent of the new stadium. The $5 billion stadium features a double-sided video board that is 120 yards long, dwarfing the digital board at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys' last trip to Los Angeles against the Rams was not so memorable. They lost in the divisional round of the 2018 playoffs at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But there is some good news: Of the four new NFL stadiums that have opened since 2010, the Cowboys have won their first game in the venue three times.