IRVING, Texas – If the Cowboys are to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, they'll have to peak during another difficult December. On paper, anyway.
The Cowboys' five opponents in the final month – vs. Eagles, at Bengals, vs. Steelers, vs. Saints and at Redskins – had a combined 47-33 record in 2011. The Steelers, Saints and Bengals made the playoffs last year, and the Eagles and Redskins are . . . well, the Eagles and the Redskins. You know the cliché: throw out the record books there. For the 15th straight year, the Cowboys play two NFC East rivals in the final month.
Granted, strength of schedule means little given the league's parity. No one knows who will rise and fall from year to year, except maybe New England. But these five quarterbacks alone will challenge Rob Ryan's reworked defense: Michael Vick, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and (educated guess) Robert Griffin III. (Side note: the Cowboys would see RGIII twice starting on Thanksgiving. Odds are he'll be a better quarterback by then.)
It's a not-so-well-kept secret that the NFL saves some of its better matchups for late in the season. The Cowboys are a ratings machine. They're going to get these kinds of games, like Philly on Sunday Night Football on Dec. 2.
The Cowboys went 1-4 in the final month in 2011. With some luck on the injury front, they must find a way to play their best football this time around.