Dallas had the third-place schedule and the Eagles the fourth-place schedule and both made the playoffs. This year Dallas gets the Bucs, Bengals and at Green Bay as a "reward" for finishing first. Do you think that will have a negative impact on next year (like it did to Washington this year)? — HOWARD STEVENS / ALLENTOWN, PA
Rob: Fair point. It doesn't get any easier next year. I would argue if you're a good team, a team capable of winning in the playoffs, the schedule shouldn't matter. Didn't matter for Green Bay or Tampa this year. Very-early take: there's going to be a lot of roster turnover this offseason, but the core of the team is in place and I still think it's good enough to win the division and earn another first-round home playoff game next season. That's always the first goal, but obviously what matters most (to the fans, to the team itself) is what happens after that.
David: I think Nick Eatman made a great point the other day that a first-place schedule is even harder than it used to be, because now you're playing three first places finishers from the previous year instead of two. It looks awfully tough on paper. Fortunately for the Cowboys, I think the NFC East will still be a very winnable division. Nobody wants to hear it right now, but taking care of the division will get you into the tournament. So that's a great starting point, at least for now.
Who will address and answer for the penalty flag situation? How do we overcome this? The Green Bay Packers are the least penalized team in the league. Are they 58 more penalty calls and 425 penalty yards better than us? — CARL DORSEY / BUFFALO, TX
Rob: Mike McCarthy said that's the No. 1 issue to address this offseason. When Bill Parcells was coaching here, he used to say he didn't coach penalties. Can't say I agree with that. I think it's part of the fundamentals that are coached. So it's up to the coaches and players collectively to fix it. When you're the highest-penalized team in the league over a full season, it's not all the officials' fault, although yes, calls like holding are more subjective and there's not always consistency from crew to crew. Bottom line: it's so hard to win games that way, particularly in the playoffs when the margin for error is razor thin.
David: I would imagine that it's a position coach's job to teach proper technique and make sure guys are avoid trouble spots that will get them flagged. But when the issue is as consistent and systemic as it was in 2021, I think it falls on the head coach. Mike McCarthy talked a lot about penalties being a point of emphasis for this team, but it never changed. They were even heavily flagged in some of their big wins, like the New England game. It never got better. Fair or not, I think the blame lies with the guy in charge. It has to improve in 2022.