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Hell Week

!The crowd could be a major factor when the Cowboys play at the New York Jets in Week 1.

healthy Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense better than Mark Sanchez and that New York group. This can't be the toughest. 

OK, the Cowboys will finish the season at Meadowlands Stadium as well, visiting the Giants on New Year's Day, 2012. That game could have a lot riding on it, similar to two of the three Week 17 matchups against the Eagles in the last few years. As difficult to win as division games are on the road, the then 1-7 Cowboys did it last year at New York, and the Giants have been notorious for late-season collapses since their Super Bowl run of 2007. Nope, this isn't it either. 

Throw out the trip to Philadelphia in Week 8 for similar reasons. Yeah, it'll probably be tough, but the Cowboys did win there last year, albeit against backups. Severely shorthanded, they gave the Eagles a real run for their money at home a few weeks before that. 

At Tampa, Week 15? Maybe. That's an up-and-coming team which narrowly missed the playoffs last year, but it's probably not time to put them among the NFL's elite, and the New Sombrero doesn't seem like a particularly scary place to visit.  

One game stands out, undeniably. In the first month of the season, the Cowboys seem to have some very winnable games. Could they start 2-2? 3-1? 4-0? Maybe. It's still unlikely that we'll know what to think of the Cowboys at that point in the year. 

But thank goodness for the bye in Week 5, because this team will need every second of extra work it can get in preparation for that trip to New England, Sunday, Oct. 16, 3:15 p.m. (CT).  

Against the Patriots in Week 6, we'll find out a lot about this Cowboys team - one that isn't even put together right now, but certainly should be built better than last year's squad. There's no question that New England will be good. They always are. Tom Brady may be the best quarterback ever. Bill Belichick's team is the most mentally tough each season. The Pats may not win the Super Bowl every year - and haven't in a little while now, actually - but they always seem to be the class of the league, and that year-in, year-out excellence in this era of parity is what the Cowboys and every other team should aspire to have.  

If the Cowboys can beat New England, we'll know how good they can be in 2011. That does seem like an incredibly tall order at this point, though, doesn't it? 

The kind of thing one could only dream about right now.  

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