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Writer’s Blocks: Breaking Down The NFL’s Overblown, Exciting Holiday
FRISCO, Texas – I would love to roll my eyes at the sheer stupidity of the NFL’s schedule release. It’s typical of this league to monetize and magnify a mundane event into must-see TV, and it’s just another in a long line of exaggerated “events” that make up the long offseason.
But the honest truth is that I woke up Thursday feeling like a kid on Christmas morning – knowing that by nightfall, I’d be privy to all the juicy matchups and primetime showdowns of the 2017 season.
So I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t like the game the NFL plays for its offseason events, but I’m too hopelessly addicted to football to try to ignore it. Hook me up to an IV – give me all the football you can.
With that in mind, I’ve had a chance to look over the Cowboys’ schedule, and I’ve got a few thoughts about how this slate is going to shake out in the months to come.
1. Is the NFL going for a college football vibe with its insistence that the Cowboys continue to host the Giants in Week 1? That’s the only conclusion I can come to after learning that Dallas will host New York to open the season for the third-straight season – and the fourth time in the last five years.
You see this frequently at the college level, as many NCAA teams face certain rivals on certain weekends. Texas and Oklahoma always play on the first Saturday in October, while Michigan and Ohio State always close out the regular season against each other. The storied Alabama-Tennessee rivalry even has a nickname for its annual date – The Third Saturday in October.
In college football, its tradition. In the NFL, it simply strikes me as boring. There were a dozen fascinating ways the Cowboys could have opened their season, whether it was a playoff rematch against Green Bay or a Week 1 trip to go open the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium.
NFC East matchups are always entertaining, no matter when they’re played. It’s not a matter of whether I think Cowboys-Giants will be an interesting game – of course it will be. Last year’s opener came down to the wire, and the 2015 game was an instant classic.
In the ever-changing world of the NFL, though, it would be nice to shake things up a bit. Cowboys-Giants will be great whenever it’s played. It doesn’t need a permanent slot in Week 1.
2. CBS might be thrilled to have Tony Romo in its broadcast booth, but how bummed is FOX that he’s not a member of the Denver Broncos?
The Cowboys head to Denver for the first time since 2009 on Sept. 17. It’s a juicy enough game in its own right – two of the most visible franchises in the league, both of which are expected to contend for playoff spots. The Broncos are hoping to regain their Super Bowl-winning form from 2015, while the Cowboys obviously hope to reach their first Super Bowl since 1995.
But I can’t even wrap my head around the hype for this game if Romo was suiting up for the Broncos. He’d be the second Cowboys great to sign up in Denver in the past few years, and he’d have immediately made the Broncos an AFC favorite – even more so than they already are.
Something tells me that if Romo was a Bronco right now, this game would be happening in primetime, rather than the 3:25 p.m. slot.
3. I’ve harped on this a few times in my writing career, and I’m going to keep doing it until everyone understands it.
No, it’s not some kind of karmic retribution that the Green Bay Packers are finally coming to AT&T Stadium in 2017. It’s also not some grave injustice that the Cowboys are traveling to play the San Francisco 49ers for a second-straight season.
That’s just the way the scheduling algorithm works.
There are two ways a non-divisional NFC opponent can wind up on your schedule. The first is that, once every three years, you play a full NFC division on a rotating basis. The second way is that you play the same-place division finishers from the other two NFC divisions.
Last year, the Cowboys traveled to play the Packers as part of a four-game slate against the NFC North. They traveled to play the 49ers because both teams finished last in their division in 2015.
This year, it’s the opposite. The Packers visit the Cowboys because each team won its respective division in 2016. The Cowboys visit San Francisco as part of their four-game slate against the entire NFC West.
Basically, it’s two different rotations – entirely independent of each other.
The next time the NFC East plays the NFC North, in 2019, the Packers will once again play at AT&T Stadium. The next time the Cowboys and Packers finish in the same place in their divisions – whether it’s this year or five years from now – the game will take place at Lambeau Field.
I hope that makes sense.
4. There’s two ways to look at the timing of the bye week – how far they’ve already come and how far they have to go.
Keep in mind that, since they play in the Hall of Fame Game this year, the Cowboys will report to training camp almost 10 days earlier than usual. They’ll also play an extra preseason game.
So by the time the bye week comes, on Oct. 15, the Cowboys will already have been playing and practicing continuously for three months. Sounds like a great time for a break.
Of course, the flip side of that argument is that Week 5 is the second-earliest an NFL team can have its bye week. That means the Cowboys will play 11-straight weeks of football after their early break.
I don’t love the idea of 11 consecutive games down the second half of the season, but an early break isn’t a bad thing for a team that’s starting its season in mid-July.
5. How’s this for a blossoming tradition: Cowboys vs. Eagles, at AT&T Stadium, in primetime.
Dallas will host Philadelphia on Nov. 19 on Sunday Night Football, which is a guaranteed ratings bonanza. The NFL is well aware of that, given that this is the third year in a row the two rivals have faced each other on Sunday night – and the fourth time in the last five years.
The only exception to that rule was 2014, when the two clubs played on Thanksgiving – which is essentially the same thing as primetime, as far as I’m concerned.
Not only is Cowboys-Eagles guaranteed to draw viewers, but it’s pretty likely to be a damn good game. The game has gone to overtime two years in a row, and four of the last five meetings have been decided by six points or less.
6. Yeah, I know the Cowboys have to play Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan this season, big whoop. We’ve known that since January. What did catch my eye is the legitimate murderers’ row of quarterbacks they’ll be facing in the final month of the season.
Starting with their Thanksgiving Day game against the L.A. Chargers (that’s weird to type), the Cowboys don’t get much of a break in terms of their opposing signal-caller. It starts off with six-time Pro Bowlers Philip Rivers. A week later, it’s Kirk Cousins – who averaged 406 passing yards in two games against Dallas last year.
Next on the docket, it’s noted Cowboy killer and two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning. Following that is a trip to play two-time Pro Bowler and 2016 MVP candidate Derek Carr. It finishes with a Christmas Eve game against three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson.
That’s five-straight games against high caliber quarterbacks – all of them coming during the crucial final portion of the season.
This defense is going to have its work cut out.
7. I can’t get over how many bizarre rematches we’ll be faced with this season.
The Cowboys play Arizona, the L.A. Rams and Oakland during their five-game preseason this year. In the regular season, they’ll turn around and play Arizona in Week 3, L.A. in Week 4 and Oakland in Week 15.
It’s unusual to see one preseason rematch in a season, let alone three. Obviously, the teams will be completely different, given how many starters sit during preseason games.
Still weird, though.
8. It’s only natural to look at the schedule and try to gauge what type of season to expect. Half the fun of being a fan is trying to determine where the wins and losses are coming, not to mention which matchups look the most fun on paper.
But spare me the whining and teeth gnashing that comes with the schedule release. The NFL is completely unpredictable, and every year we see surprises in the standings across the league landscape.
The Cowboys were expected to be a juggernaut in 2015, and they finished 4-12. The Giants, Lions and Dolphins all made the playoffs in 2016 despite starting the season with modest expectations.
Never forget the 2016 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who looked like an easy victory when the schedule came out. Fast forward to December, and they entered their game against the Cowboys on a five-game winning streak. They finished the season 9-7, barely missing the playoffs, just one year after going 6-10.
9. My point is that you sound like an idiot trying to tell me what this schedule looks like in April.
A handful of the Cowboys’ formidable-looking opponents are going to have disappointing seasons. A handful of the easy-looking opponents are going to surprise some people. That’s the way the league is designed.
For that matter, we don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with in the 2017 Dallas Cowboys – not yet. We’re due for plenty of surprises and disappointments – on this team and on every other team – before it’s all said and done.
10. Having said all of that, and having earlier admitted my disdain for the “event” of the schedule release, I have to acknowledge that this is one of my favorite days of the year – and the reason is simple.
Starting today, the 2017 NFL season is no longer an abstract concept. It’s a tangible thing that we can discuss, debate and await. The NFL draft will start a week from now, and by the end of April we’ll know – more or less – what everyone’s 2017 roster is going to look like.
Schedule release day basically marks the end of the offseason, as far as I’m concerned. From this point on, we have dates on our calendar and games to discuss.
Maybe it’s overblown a bit, but at the end of the day, that’s a fact worth celebrating.Read