The Dallas Cowboys under head coach Mike McCarthy have been winning in the regular season like it's the 1990s again: consecutive seasons with 12 victories in 2021 (12-5) and 2022 (12-5), with quarterback Dak Prescott playing 12 or more games each season. The last two seasons mark the first consecutive Dallas seasons with 12 or more wins since the 1992-1995 seasons, when the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in four years with Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin leading the way.
The sour element of their consistent contention the last two seasons is the way they have both concluded: with losses to the San Francisco 49ers -- in the NFC wild-card round in 2021 and in the NFC divisional round in 2022. That has extended their NFL record streak of consecutive playoff appearances without a conference championship game to 12 in a row.
However, owner Jerry Jones began made some smart moves this offseason, trading late-round picks for quality veterans that can plug key roster roles. He did so in the deals to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Both are already making an impact on their new Cowboys teammates in their roles as the team's number two receiver and number two cornerback. These moves were made on top of retaining just about all of their key defensive players from a unit that allowed the fifth-fewest points (20.1 points per game) in the NFL in 2022. The front office then in a solid 2023 NFL Draft haul.
The reward for the Cowboys' recent success is one of the top-five most difficult schedules. The fun of such a gauntlet is plenty of primetime and spotlight games against some of the NFL's top teams and biggest stars. Here's a breakdown of the five most thrilling Cowboys games coming up this season, must-watch events for even neutral observers who simply enjoy high-quality football.
5. Week 6 at Los Angles Chargers ("Monday Night Football")
Date and time: Monday, Oct 16 at 8:15 p.m. ET | Channel: ESPN/ABC (FuboTV)
It's the Kellen Moore revenge game! After four years of Moore running the Cowboys' offense, three under head coach Mike McCarthy, the head coach's desire to call plays again like he did with the Green Bay Packers led to Moore's departure. He wasn't unemployed for long as Chargers head coach Brandon Staley quickly handed Moore the keys to the Chargers offense soon thereafter. Moore paired with quarterback Justin Herbert, who has the most passing yards (14,089) through a player's first three seasons in NFL history and the second-most passing touchdowns (94) through a player's first three seasons in NFL history, will likely lead to many more fireworks at SoFi Stadium.
The weapons at Moore's disposal -- running back Austin Ekeler (the NFL's scrimmage touchdowns leader in each of the last two seasons) and an explosive wide receiver duo of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and 2023 first-round pick Quentin Johnston (21st overall) out of TCU will test defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's top-five defense early and often. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and a reshuffled offense with running back Tony Pollard as the clear-cut top running back for the first time in his career plus Brandin Cooks filling in for the loss of Amari Cooper will provide McCarthy the opportunity to show who's the better play-caller between him and his former pupil head-to-head. Los Angeles also possesses plenty of star power on defense with Pro Bowl pass rushers Khalil Mack (the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year) and Joey Bosa as well as Pro Bowl safety Derwin James.
A primetime spot against one of the more high-powered offenses and star-studded defenses in football will provide Dallas with a strong measure where they stand prior to their Week 7 bye.
4. Week 5 at San Francisco 49ers ("Sunday Night Football")
Date and time: Sunday, Oct. 8 at 8:20 p.m. ET | Channel: NBC (FuboTV)
The San Francisco 49ers are responsible for ending each of the last two Dallas Cowboys campaigns in one-possession duels, once at AT&T Stadium (2021) and once at Levi's Stadium (2022). Despite the quarterback uncertainty after Brock Purdy's elbow injury in the San Francisco 49ers' season-ending, 31-7 NFC Championship Game defeat, they still boast one of the NFL's most complete rosters. They could probably sign a random fan the week before a game and have that person play quarterback well enough to escape with a win. Having a cast of playmakers like wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle, and running backs Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell with head coach Kyle Shanahan calling plays allows for whoever their quarterback is to press buttons like they're playing Madden in order to string together successful plays with ease.
Defensively, they not only return nearly all of their starters from the NFL's top defense of 2022, but they strengthened their defensive tackle spot, their biggest weakness, in free agency after signing former Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowler Javon Hargrave to a four-year, $84 million contract. When Hargrave lined up in the defensive tackle spot on the Eagles' defensive line in 2022, he registered 9.0 sacks (tied for the most in the NFL at the position) and totaled the highest quarterback pressure percentage (14%) , also the most in the league at that spot. San Francisco had dreadful production out of their defensive tackle position when rushing the passer, tying for the fewest sacks (1.0). They also ranked 11th in pressure rate (7%). Putting Hargrave next to 2022 Defensive Player of the Year and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, whose 18.5 sacks led the NFL and whose 90 quarterback pressures co-led the NFL along with Micah Parsons, will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares all season long.
In the Cowboys' second consecutive playoff loss to the 49ers, one of the primary reasons for their defeat was Prescott forcing too many passes to Lamb since Dallas lacked a viable number two option. With Brandin Cooks now onboard, his presence should erase the issue. It will be intriguing to see if his addition is enough to get the Silver and Blue past their most recent postseason roadblock.
3. Week 15 at Buffalo Bills
Date and time: Sunday, Dec. 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET | Channel: FOX (FuboTV)
The Buffalo Bills have been one of the NFL's most dominant teams across the last three regular seasons, leading the league in points per game (29.4) and points allowed per game (19.4) in that span. Quarterback Josh Allen once again had a phenomenal season in 2022, ranking second in the entire league to only MVP Patrick Mahomes in total yards (5,045) and total touchdowns (42). However like Prescott, Allen too had turnover issues in 2022, leading the league in turnovers with 19, 14 interceptions (tied for the third-most in the NFL) and five fumbles lost (tied for the second-most in the NFL).
With Allen becoming erratic as Buffalo asked him to be their number two running back -- his 124 carries and 762 rushing yards were the second-most on the team while his seven rushing scores led the Bills -- behind James Cook, general manager Brandon Beane prioritized making his life easier in the 2023 NFL Draft. Buffalo selected the draft's top pass-catching tight end, Utah's Dalton Kincaid, 25th overall, and one of the draft's top offensive guards, Florida's O'Cyrus Torrence 59th overall (Round 2) -- right after the Cowboys selected Michigan tight end Luke Schoonmaker -- with their first two picks.
Providing Allen with another weapon in the passing game plus better blocking up front should reduce his giveaways. Defensively, it's much of the same for 2022's number two scoring defense (17.9 points per game allowed) with the hope that 34-year-old All-Pro linebacker Von Miller can bounce back from a torn ACL to give their pass rush the boost they hoped for when they gave him a six-year, $120 million contract in free agency last offseason. The Cowboys facing off against one of the NFL's best on the road will be as tough a task as they'll face all season. This could be a potential Super Bowl preview.
2. Week 14 vs Eagles ("Sunday Night Football")
Date and time: Sunday, Dec. 10 at 8:20 p.m. ET | Channel: NBC (FuboTV)
This will be the second of two regular season matchups between the NFC East's top two teams, and it could decide the division title with the contest coming late in the season. The Cowboys and Eagles split their 2022 season matchups with each team winning at home with the losing team utilizing a back-up quarterback in both games.
Philadelphia lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to the NFC runner-up San Francisco 49ers on a four-year, $84 million contract, but general manager Howie Roseman maneuvered his way up one spot from the 10th overall to ninth overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, by sending a 2024 fourth-rounder to the Chicago Bears, to select Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who was once the draft's highest-touted prospect prior to legal issues. The rest of the Eagles' starters from a unit that led the NFL in sacks (70) have otherwise all returned. Philadelphia's offensive line is similarly buttressed with 2022 second round pick Cam Jurgens sliding into the right guard spot vacated by Isaac Seumalo's departure to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Since the Eagles still possess one of the NFL's best lines on each side of the ball, they're still in position to dominate their opposition. MVP runner-up quarterback Jalen Hurts' contract situation being resolved early locks the Eagles into a position of stability offensively that should allow their passing game to continue to make strides to catch up to their dominant ground game -- now led by trade acquisition D'Andre Swift and former first-round running back Rashaad Penny -- in 2023, Hurts' third season as a full-time starting quarterback.
This is a matchup between two of the best rosters in the NFL with rivalry bragging rights and NFC playoff seeding on the line. Get your popcorn ready.
1. Week 2 vs. New York Jets
Date and time: Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4:25 p.m. ET | Channel: CBS (Paramount+)
In case you weren't aware, Dallas Cowboys' bogeyman Aaron Rodgers is now the quarterback of the New York Jets. His move from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets creates another matchup between the four-time NFL MVP and the Cowboys that wouldn't have happened in 2023 were he still a Packer. Instead, the Silver and Blue get to face a quarterback who has won eight of his 10 starts against the franchise while throwing 18 touchdowns to only two interceptions in those games. It will be a significant early-season test for Dan Quinn's defense, going from facing Daniel Jones in Week 1 to Rodgers in Week 2.
He led the Packers to a 31-28 overtime victory in Week 10 last season after trailing 28-14 entering the fourth quarter, with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. This marked the first time in Cowboys franchise history (since 1960) that Dallas suffered defeat when they possessed a lead of 14 or more points entering the fourth quarter. Rodgers completed 14 of his 20 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns, dropping Dallas' record toin such situations.
The future Hall of Famer is also responsible for ending two of the Cowboys' best seasons of the 21st Century in the playoffs, the 2014 and 2016 campaigns. There's nothing Dallas' fans and head coach Mike McCarthy -- once Rodgers' play-caller, confidant, and head coach while in Green Bay -- would enjoy more in the regular season then toppling Rodgers in what will likely be their final matchup with the future, first-ballot Hall of Famer.