REALITY CHECK: In the NFL, there is no such thing as a weak schedule

IRVING, Texas — Seems some fans are ticked that the Dallas Cowboys tied for the 11th-toughest schedule based on 2011 records while last year’s top playoff seeds, the Packers and Patriots, supposedly have it easy.

Bottom line is this: nobody in the National Football League gets a weak slate. "Schedule strength" applies to all 32 times. That’s parity, folks.

The Cowboys tied for the 15th-toughest schedule in 2011, but some of their so-called "easier" games — San Francisco (6-10 in 2010) and Detroit (6-10 in 2010) — weren’t so simple. Sure, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia played well below expectations, but the Eagles certainly didn’t show it in two blowout wins over Dallas. And no NFC East game is a cakewalk, anyway.

This year the Cowboys have another third-place schedule, but the entire division plays the NFC South and the AFC North. The only difference is the Giants get fellow division champs Green Bay and San Francisco, while the Cowboys play fellow third-placers Chicago and Seattle.

DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer introduce themselves to Chicago QB Jay Cutler

Even then, both those opponents could compete for a playoff spot. The Bears will be better if they get protection for Jay Cutler, and the Seahawks were a team on the rise by the end of 2011.

No matter what the computer says, the Cowboys always have to claw and scratch to get back to the postseason. December/January probably will include multiple division and primetime matchups — great for ratings, but not for Dallas. That’s the price of being America’s Team.

Twelve of the Cowboys’ 24 games under Jason Garrett have been decided by a field goal or less. No one said winning would be easy in 2012, either.


Dallas Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times ET)

Week 1: Wednesday, Sept. 5, at NY Giants, 8:30 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, at Seattle, 4:05 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 23, Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM

Week 4: Monday, Oct. 1, Chicago, 8:30 PM
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, NY Giants, 4:15 PM

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Atlanta, 8:20 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, at Philadelphia, 4:15 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Thursday, Nov. 22, Washington, 4:15 PM

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, Pittsburgh, 4:15 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, at Washington, 1:00 PM


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