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Offseason | 2023

Spagnola: No Schedule Spoils For These Victors


FRISCO, Texas – Well, here is the next downside of going 12-5 and winning one playoff game.

We witnessed the first two weeks ago, the Cowboys' punishment for tying for the sixth-best record in the 2022 season relegating them to the 26th pick in the first round of the inverse order of the NFL Draft.

And now this, and we've known the Cowboys opponents for the 2023 regular season since the end of the 2022 season, but now the consequences get magnified after Thursday's release of the 2023 NFL schedule:

When it comes to strength of schedule for 2023, the Cowboys' 17 opponents finished with a .549 winning percentage last season, leaving them in a three-way tie for the third-toughest schedule in the NFL with New England and the New York Giants, though the Cowboys opponents' 156-128-4 record considered a smidge easier than the Patriots' 156-127-3 and but a tad more difficult than the Giants' 157-129-2.

A dramatic turnaround from last season's schedule when the Cowboys tied Washington for the easiest of schedules when it comes to opponent winning percentages.

But hey, you can only play who they tell you to play, right? And because of the toughness of the NFC East last season, none of the four teams finishing with a losing record making up six of this season's 17 games, and the NFL predetermined rotation pitting the Cowboys this year against the AFC East (all four teams with at least seven victories), then the NFC West members and the second-place finishes in the other two NFC divisions, this is what happens.

Yep, last year was considered considerably easier because of the six games against a sagging NFC East from 2021. But this time around, three of the four NFC East teams qualified for the playoffs and with Washington finishing 8-8-1, sure turns up the heat.

So as a reminder, the Cowboys will pay 10 games against opponents finishing with winning records in 2022, nine games against 2022 playoff teams, including the two teams from the NFC Championship Game and, of course, two games against the NFC champion Eagles.

What we discovered Thursday, though, was simply the order of the games, and really, knowing the Cowboys will be playing nine of the 17 games on the road this year, frankly with one exception, the order of games seems rather acceptable.

OK, get the Cowboys must play four of the first six before the Oct. 22 bye on the road, but three of those six – Jets, Cardinals, Patriots – are against teams with losing records from last season, and at least Game 2 against the Jets and that darn Arron Rodgers – again – is at AT&T Stadium.

Plus, after the bye in Week 7, and a welcomed placement of that since they will have played nine games by then when counting the three preseason games, the Cowboys play five of the next seven games at home, a little payback of sorts for spending so much time on the road over the first six games.

So here are the two most prominent takes from the schedule, one a good and one a potential red flag.

The good: Since once again the NFL is forcing the Cowboys to play three games in 12 days sandwiched around the Nov. 23 Thanksgiving Day game against Washington at AT&T Stadium, at least the Sunday, Nov. 19, game is a fortunate noon start at Carolina instead of like in 2019, forcing them to play the late afternoon game as far away as New England. And then their mandatory Thursday night game again follows Thanksgiving but at least a home night game against Seattle (Nov. 30) instead of like in 2021 when having to go back on the road to New Orleans.

Now the uh-oh tough patch, and even though they must play back-to-back road games on the West Coast in Weeks 5 and 6, at least the first a night game Sunday, Oct. 8 at San Francisco, followed by meeting the Chargers in Los Angeles on a Monday night. Somewhat of a break.

But then there is this, a three-game stretch that just might decide their 2023 fate: Philadelphia Sunday night, Dec. 10, at AT&T Stadium, then on the road for consecutive games at Buffalo (Dec. 17) and on Christmas Eve a second consecutive year, this time at Miami. And if that is not tough enough, the Cowboys return home to play Detroit the following Saturday night, a short week but at least a night game, to complete a stretch of five consecutive games against teams posting winning records in 2022.

That three-game stretch, though, must be considered the toughest of the season, having to play last year's 14-3 NFC East and NFC champion Eagles, the 13-3 AFC East champion Bills and the 9-8 wild-card Dolphins.

A word to the wise for the Cowboys: Better get off to a decent start those first six games and must make hay while playing four of the next six games at home before this three-game gauntlet starting against the Eagles, the fifth of seven at home.

Oh, and one last note on this strength of schedule thing. The teams comprising the top eight toughest strength of schedules?

Why, the four NFC East teams and the four AFC East teams, the Eagles No. 1 facing a .556 winning percentage, followed by Miami at .554, then Patriots, Cowboys, Giants at .549, the Jets at .545, Bills (.542) and Commanders .535. Makes sense since each of the eight teams will play a total of 10 games within those two divisions, two each against their three division opponents and a single game against the four opponents from the other division.

Some luck of the draw, right?

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