We’ve known for months who the Cowboys will play in 2017 and where the games will take place; the “when” aspect of the equation has been missing, however.
With the NFL set to announce the schedule on Thursday night, I figured I’d take an idea from my friend RJ Ochoa at Inside the Star, who every year attempts to predict how the schedule will break down.
So with a thank you to RJ, and a lot of unnecessary agonizing over selections, I give you my own projection for the 2017 schedule.
Week 1: at Oakland (Sunday, September 10th, 3pm, Fox)
Because of previous league precedent and tendencies, this game is the best opportunity to accurately predict who, when, and where Dallas plays. Because of that, it’s also the one that had me going back and forth the most. Ultimately I decided to project a 3pm kickoff on the road against Oakland.
I think the league will open Thursday Night Football with a Super Bowl rematch, much like they did in 2016. So that would mean the Falcons on the road against the Patriots.
Also like 2016, I think they pair the conference runners-up for Sunday Night Football. This would mean the Steelers would host the Packers.
Given the unavailability of the reigning NFC Champs and the Packers, Dallas is the obvious choice for Fox’s 3pm Game of the Week. Everyone has football fever on opening weekend, so with ratings less of a concern, you don’t necessarily want to schedule your most newsworthy matchup if you’re Fox and the NFL.
With that said, you still want to come out with a bit of a bang. Oakland versus Dallas presents just that opportunity. Both are widely considered to be the heirs to the throne in their respective conferences, loading up for a multi-year reign. Both rosters feature exciting young players.
So while it’s not the sure-fire ratings bullet that networks save for strategic points in the season, it is an intriguing matchup that gives an added layer of excitement to a television audience thirsting for any sort of meaningful game.
Week 2: Washington (Sunday, September 17th, 7:30pm, NBC)
Only once in the last 22 years (2014) have the Cowboys gone the entire month of September without playing a division rival, so they’ll square off against someone from the NFC East early.
With New York getting the boot from opening week, I think the Giants get shuffled down the schedule a bit. I also think the NFL has big promotional plans over the next several years to turn Prescott vs. Wentz into a major television event. With Philadelphia saved for strategic moments and the Giants out of the mix, Washington would seem to make sense.
In addition to the NFL’s consistent scheduling of NFC East games for Dallas in September, they almost always put the Cowboys in prime time at least once in the first four weeks.
The Cowboys and Redskins have a rich history, played two great games against each other last year, and would give the league something they desperately needed early last season: a reliably competitive Sunday Night Football game.
Week 3: at San Francisco (Sunday, September 24th, 3pm, Fox)
The league typically schedules two road games and two home games at the beginning of the year. Most frequently those games are staggered in a 1-1-1-1 format rather than 2-2 or 1-2-1.
I think it’s unlikely the NFL would schedule Dallas’ two AFC road games three weeks into the season, so cross off Denver. I’ve also checked the “September NFC East game” box the previous week with Washington, leaving us only Atlanta, Arizona, and San Francisco as options.
I don’t see Atlanta as an option. I think that’s one of the big time ratings games saved for later that we discussed. Arizona could be a fit, but the NFL has shown a recent propensity to schedule San Francisco early in the year against the Cowboys (Dallas’ fourth game in 2016, first game in 2014, and second game in 2011).
Week 4: Kansas City (Sunday, October 1st, 3pm, CBS)
I think Dallas draws an NFC team for Thanksgiving this year, which will be on CBS. That means CBS’ other game featuring Dallas will be either at home against the Chargers or the Chiefs.
CBS’ first Cowboys game is typically somewhere in the first two weeks of October with their second game coming roughly six to eight weeks later.
With the options of Chiefs or Chargers for Romo’s first broadcast of a Cowboys game, I think Kansas City is the obvious choice. More prestigious opponent for a game that will have natural intrigue from the media and fans.
Week 5: at Atlanta (Sunday, October 8th, 7:30pm, NBC)
Five weeks into the season when casual fans start getting fatigue and drop off, the league fires one of their calculated ratings shots.
Atlanta is moving into a brand new state-of-the-art facility this year and are the defending NFC Champions. The Cowboys, Atlanta’s prime challengers in the conference, present an intriguing bout for viewers.
I would have reserved this for a bit later in the season, but I think the NFL takes things into account that others might not. Does Atlanta seem like a team primed for long-term success? Perhaps, but the expectation doesn’t seem as certain as it does with Dallas, Tampa, Oakland, and other up-and-comers. The NFL takes this into account and hedges its bets by scheduling a week five matchup; if Atlanta is struggling, it could be a make-or-break battle against the prime NFC challenger. If they’re playing well, you maintain the prestige of the game.
Week 6: BYE
It’s a struggle where to predict the bye week. I don’t believe there’s any chance that Dallas gets a bye in weeks 8-10. That’s the last Sunday in October and the first two Sundays in November when the league often schedules Dallas for marquee games. Dallas is never given a bye the week before Thanksgiving, because that would be a massively unfair advantage in the Cowboys’ favor.
So if it’s not a November bye, I think week six is a good estimate.
Week 7: at Arizona (Sunday, October 22nd, 3pm, Fox)
Cowboys catch a bit of a break and are given a bye week in between their first road back-to-back of the year.
I think the league is going to keep a road matchup with Philly in its pocket for November, and I don’t think they want to have Dallas play their last game against New York or Washington this early in the season.
Denver could certainly be an option here, but I don’t know that I can envision a scenario where Dallas has played all but one of their AFC opponents before October is even finished.
Week 8: New York Giants (Sunday, October 29th, 3pm, Fox)
While we usually get one or two NFC East games in September, we also usually get two or three NFC East games in the final five games of the year. That leaves October and November getting randomly sprinkled with NFC East matchups for Dallas.
As I mentioned in the bye week section, the end of October into the beginning of November is when the NFL tries to strategically place the Cowboys into big games. No Giants on opening night means the end of October is the perfect time for their first matchup.
Week 9: at Philadelphia (Sunday, November 5th, 7:30pm, NBC)
This is the game I think NFL schedulers are going to be most intentional with over the next few years. Prescott and Wentz both showing signs of brilliance as rookies has to have the league salivating at the thought of two battles every year for the next decade or so.
I think this game is played in Philadelphia as a bit of a balance; Eagles haven’t traveled to North Texas for a game in the final month of the season since 2013.
Week 10: Los Angeles Rams (Sunday, November 12th, 12pm, Fox)
If Jared Goff actually materializes into an NFL quarterback, this could potentially be an intriguing game.
But given the question marks surrounding the Rams’ ability to contend, it makes sense to have this be the first noon kickoff of the year for Dallas.
Week 11: at Washington (Sunday, November 19th, 3pm, Fox)
I mentioned earlier that Dallas is never given a bye the Sunday before Thanksgiving because of the unfair advantage it poses. It’s for those same sort of reasons that the Cowboys often find themselves on the road the week before, so they have to travel on a short week just like their opponent.
Not only does the NFL often schedule Dallas to be on the road and their Thanksgiving opponent to be at home the week before the game, they also schedule the Cowboys to be an almost equal distance from Arlington as their opponent’s home stadium. Often times it is as level travel schedule as can possibly be.
Given the remaining road games Dallas has at this point (New York, Washington, and Denver) this was the closest distance differential to who I have projected as their Thanksgiving Day game.
Week 12: Green Bay (Thursday, November 23rd, 3pm, CBS)
Hey! It’s Tony Romo again!
Thanksgiving gives us a rematch of last year’s thrilling playoff game, with Romo getting to call his hometown Packers vs. his adopted hometown Cowboys.
Week 13: Seattle (Monday, December 4th, 7pm, ESPN)
For the last four years the Cowboys have followed their Thanksgiving game with either an appearance on Monday Night Football, or a second consecutive Thursday game.
I’m betting on the Monday game this year. I think the Chargers would make sense as a Monday Night Football opponent, but given that the league has only once scheduled Dallas and Seattle to play later than week 13 (2001 when they squared off in week 14) I’m going to guess this is there limit. The NFL has actually been very consistent about scheduling this matchup in the middle of the season. Of the 16 times the Cowboys and Seahawks have been scheduled to play each other, 12 of them have been placed in October or November. Three were in early December and one was in September (2012).
Week 14: at Denver (Sunday, December 10th, 3pm, Fox)
I don’t feel great about where I’ve placed this game. My guess would be that the NFL does their best to avoid AFC/NFC matchups in December, since they would have the least bearing on playoff races.
But this wouldn’t be the first time Dallas played two AFC opponents in December. Their 2015 schedule had them playing the Jets and Bills in back-to-back weeks, and that was coming off of a 12-4 season in 2014.
Week 15: Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, December 17th, 12pm, Fox)
Dallas usually gets two games scheduled at noon. A December meeting with what is likely to be the last place team in the AFC West seems like a good time for that second noon game.
Week 16: at New York Giants (Saturday, December 23rd, 3pm, Fox)
Christmas weekends are always goofy with the NFL. They split the schedule up in a funny way and you see a number of games played on Saturday.
I don’t feel super confident about putting a road game against the Giants this late in the season. Dallas has only played New York on the road this late in the season once in the past 12 years (week 17, 2011-12).
Week 17: Philadelphia (Sunday, December 31st, 3pm, Fox)
I think the NFL is hoping Philadelphia and Dallas are fighting for the division and they can get a Prescott/Wentz battle for the NFC East Championship on New Year’s Eve.