Away we go:
- I wonder just how seriously the Cowboys were considered to be the Seattle Seahawks’ opponent in Week 1. The Cowboys have five prime-time games despite their lack of playoff success in recent years and would have been a good draw. The Green Bay Packers got the nod, which will bring up the “Fail Mary” talk from the 2011 season when replacement refs were used early in the season. The Cowboys opened the 2012 season at MetLife Stadium after the New York Giants won the Super Bowl the previous season. The Cowboys won that game, too. Had the Cowboys been the pick this year you can bet the 2006 wild-card game would have been front and center with NBC showing a lot of highlights of Tony Romo’s bobbled snap.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Evan VucciTony Romo and the Cowboys will have at least five prime-time games in 2014.
- I wonder if the Cowboys leave for London on Nov. 3, the day after they play the Arizona Cardinals. It would give them extra time to get acclimated to the time change after a long flight to get ready to play the Jacksonville Jaguars. Late last year I wondered if the Cowboys would play an East Coast game against the Giants, Philadelphia Eagles or Washington Redskins and left the next day for London. That would have been a long time on the road, so this possible schedule would seem to work better.
- I wonder if the networks agree with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones when he mentioned how good of a show Dallas provided after their loss last year to the Packers. Well, not really. I know they agree with Jones on that. And that’s why the Cowboys have the maximum amount of prime-time games and could find themselves playing in prime time a sixth time thanks to the flex scheduling later in the year. The Cowboys will be playing night games on NBC (three times), CBS/NFL Network (once) and ESPN (once). I wonder if the networks would petition for more Cowboys games if the club could actually have, you know, actual playoff success, too.
- I wonder what kind of record the Cowboys need to have in the first half of the season to make a playoff run in the second half. They are on the road in four of the final six games of the year. Three of their first five games are at AT&T Stadium and they have a three-game homestand in Weeks 7-9. That would appear to be the must-win territory to build up a cushion down the stretch.
- I wonder if the Cowboys believe in climate change. Three of their four games in December might have them in coooooooold temperatures. We know it will be cold in Chicago for the Dec. 4 meeting against the Bears at Soldier Field. It was a ridiculous 8 degrees with a minus-9 wind chill when these teams met on Dec. 9, 2013, in what turned out to be a 45-28 Chicago win. Ten days later, the Cowboys play at Philadelphia. In the Dec. 8, 2013, game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles beat the Detroit Lions in a blizzard. The Cowboys close the year Dec. 28 in Washington. It might be warm, but it might be coooooooold, too. And Redskins fans might want to hope for snow or ice so they can throw it at the Cowboys as they go off the field.
As NFL schedules were announced on Wednesday night, many season ticket holders scrambled to the secondary market to list their game tickets.
The game with the highest average resale listed ticket price? The kickoff game that features the Green Bay Packers at the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, Sept. 4. The average ticket price on resale sites for that game is $575.62, according to TiqIQ, a ticket resale market aggregator. The get-in price for the worst seat in the house is already a steep $245.
The second most in-demand game, by listed price, is the Week 12 Sunday Night Football matchup between Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants (Nov. 23). TiqIQ says the average listed price of that game is $569.90.
The defending AFC champion Denver Broncos are featured in the next three top five most costly matchups. The team's game at Gillette Stadium against the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 has an average listed price of $567.09, according to TiqIQ data. The Broncos' Sunday Night Football matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at home on Oct. 19 has an average listed price of $536.76, while its Super Bowl XXLVIII rematch against the Seahawks in Seattle on Sept. 21 has opened with an average listed ticket price on the resale market of $526.98.
But there are five that stand out as musts for the Cowboys if they want to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. And it might not be the five you are thinking of, such as the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers or the season ender against the Washington Redskins.
Let’s take a look:
Sept. 21 at St. Louis Rams: You might think this is an odd choice, but the Cowboys need to win games they are supposed to win. If this game was at AT&T Stadium, then you could book DeMarco Murray for at least 150 yards and the Cowboys winning big. Since it is in St. Louis, it will be more difficult but not impossible. The last time the Cowboys visited the Arch, they were pasted 34-14 in 2008 with Tony Romo out because of a busted pinky. The Cowboys missed the playoffs that year by one game. The Rams were a different team at the end of last season than they were when they played the Cowboys in Week 3, but if Dallas wants to be serious, then this is a game they must win.
Oct. 5 vs. Houston Texans: The Texans were 2-14 last year and have a new coach and will have a new quarterback, potentially even a rookie. But Houston has more talent than most 2-14 teams. Last year just snowballed on them and they could do nothing about it. This will be only the second trip to the area to play the Cowboys. In 2006, Tony Romo threw the first passes of his career against Houston in a 34-6 win. Why is this game important? It’s sandwiched between a visit from the New Orleans Saints, who embarrassed the Cowboys last year, and a trip to take on the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys can’t afford a three-game losing streak this early in the season.
Nov. 2 vs. Arizona Cardinals: The easiest way to make the playoffs is to win the NFC East. In order to have a wild-card chance, the Cowboys need to win their out of division matchups in the NFC. The Cardinals finished 10-6 last year and look like a team that can contend for a postseason spot even in a division with the Seahawks and 49ers. For the Cowboys to have wild-card hopes, they will need to hold off Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer & Co. in what concludes a three-game homestand.
Nov. 23 at NY Giants: The NFL did not do the Cowboys any favors with this game being on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which will mean the Cowboys have a quick turnaround on Thanksgiving against the Philadelphia Eagles. As much as we have discussed the Giants’ success in Arlington, the Cowboys have won three of four games at MetLife Stadium. Coming off the bye week following their trip to London to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys would be best served to continue their road success in the Meadowlands with the Eagles coming to AT&T Stadium four days later.
Dec. 4 at Chicago Bears: The Cowboys were embarrassed at Soldier Field last year and Jay Cutler didn’t even play. Josh McCown threw four touchdown passes against Dallas, and the Cowboys’ offense was equally as abysmal. It might have been the worst effort of the season. If the Cowboys can win this game, then they could gain a wild-card edge. They would also have a 10-day break before heading to Philadelphia for a key NFC East matchup at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 14.
The schedule makers have placed the Cowboys on the road in three of their last four 2014 games in December and that's the toughest part of their schedule.
There are visits to Chicago (Dec. 4) and Philadelphia (Dec. 14) a home game against Indianapolis (Dec. 21) and a road contest at Washington on Dec. 28 to finish the regular season.
Ending seasons haven't gone well for the Cowboys in the past. They've been knocked from a possible postseason berth in the regular season finale in each of the last three seasons. The Cowboys finished 2013 (1-3) and 2011 (1-4) badly.
It's very difficult to see this team succeeding through this tough stretch. Last season, in a Dec. 9 game at Chicago, the Cowboys were beaten badly, 45-28, in the coldest regular-season game in franchise history. The game-time temperature was 8 degrees with the wind chill at minus-9.
Games on the road against division rivals Washington and Philadelphia will be difficult as well.
And to say the Cowboys will beat the Colts at AT&T Stadium is no easy task. The Cowboys are just 3-7 in December at their facility, so the Cowboys have plenty of proving to do this season to a fan base starved for postseason football.
Quarterback Tony Romo has an outstanding record in November, 24-5, and it's expected he should gets some big wins here before heading into the biggest stretch run of the season.
After the Cowboys visit the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 12, there's a three-game homestand starting Oct. 19 against the New York Giants. The Giants won their first four games at the new Cowboys' stadium until last year. The Cowboys earned a 36-31 victory in the 2013 season opener.
Maybe the Cowboys have turned the tide at their own facility against the Giants.
Following the Giants game, the Cowboys have a chance to string together a nice win streak heading into the bye after the Jags game. The Cowboys have to take advantage of this stretch of games because the last month of the season has too many road games.
In what might be the easiest part of the 2014 schedule the Cowboys have consecutive home games against Washington (Oct. 27 on "Monday Night Football") and on Nov. 2 against Arizona. Following the Arizona game, the Cowboys will leave for London to take on the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
If the Cowboys can go into the bye week with say, a four-game win streak, they could set themselves up for a strong finish to the season.
Winning at home is imperative to a successful season for the Cowboys. Now, AT&T Stadium isn't an imposing place, but the Cowboys are 9-2 at home in November and face two NFC East opponents in addition to Arizona that month.
The Cowboys' preseason schedule:
Aug. 7 at San Diego, 9 p.m. (KTVT, CBS 11)
Aug. 16 vs. Baltimore, 6 p.m. (KTVT, CBS 11)
Aug. 23 at Miami, 6 p.m. (KTVT, CBS 11)
Aug. 28 vs. Denver, 7 p.m. (KTVT, CBS 11)
Notes: The Cowboys could open training camp on July 23, in Oxnard, Calif., which would be 15 days from the start of the preseason. The key to the preseason is what happens after the Cowboys' preseason opener at San Diego. The team most likely will go back to Oxnard for a couple of practices before breaking camp on either Aug. 14 or Aug. 15. After the second preseason game against the Ravens, the Cowboys have the option of going back to Oxnard. The team could just hold practices at Valley Ranch. Under normal conditions, the Cowboys would play their first two preseason games on the road, but a concert at AT&T Stadium forced the team to split the first two games between home and the road.
Breakdown: Despite not having made the playoffs since 2009, the Cowboys remain a popular national team with five prime-time games. But if they are to stop the playoff-less streak, they will have to start fast and hold the fort late in the season. Three of the Cowboys' first five games come against teams that did not make the playoffs last season: at the Tennessee Titans, at the St. Louis Rams and at home against the Houston Texans. The other two home games are against two of the best teams in the NFC in the San Francisco 49ers (Sept. 7) and New Orleans Saints (Sept. 28). Because of their Nov. 9 trip to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cowboys don’t have their bye week until Nov. 16, but the close of the season is particularly tough with four of their last six games coming on the road with trips at the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears and finale at the Washington Redskins.
Complaint department: The schedule maker did not do the Cowboys any favors with their Thanksgiving matchup with a night game at the Giants. The Cowboys will not get back to Dallas until early Monday morning with a short week to get ready for the Eagles. The Cowboys shouldn't have to play a road game the week before the Thanksgiving matchup, and playing a night game is borderline unfair. The Cowboys will not get their customary 10-day break until after they play at the Bears on Dec. 4. The Cowboys had a similar Thursday-Thursday schedule in 2007 when they finished 13-3. They can only hope to be as fortunate in 2014.
Not safe at home: AT&T Stadium has not created the home-field advantage the Dallas Cowboys have craved since moving into the $1.2 billion facility in 2009, and the Cowboys will be tested at home in 2014. The Cowboys welcome four playoff teams from 2013 to Arlington: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Indianapolis and New Orleans. Plus Arizona won 10 games last year. The Cowboys have beaten the Giants just once at home since 2009 and Houston has more talent than its 2-14 record indicates. The Cowboys are 22-18 in the regular season at AT&T Stadium. The easiest formula to make the playoffs is to win your home games and split them on the road. That will be a tough case for the Cowboys in 2014.
Strength of schedule: The Cowboys have the second-toughest schedule in the NFC East based on 2013 winning percentage, following the Washington Redskins (No. 17, .490). The Philadelphia Eagles won the division last year and have the 20th-ranked schedule (.490).
Strength of schedule: 18th, .488 | Vegas over/under : 8
Cowboys Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, San Francisco, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Tennessee, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, at St. Louis, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Houston, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, NY Giants, 4:25 p.m.
Week 8: Monday, Oct. 27, Washington, 8:30 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, Arizona, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 11: BYE
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at NY Giants, 8:30 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, at Chicago, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Indianapolis, 4:25 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Here is the Cowboys schedule with notes on every opponent (times CT).
Sept. 7 vs. San Francisco, 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Sept. 14 at Tennessee, Noon (FOX)
Sept. 21 at St. Louis, Noon (FOX)
Sept. 28 vs. New Orleans, 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
Oct. 5 vs. Houston, Noon (CBS)
Oct. 12 at Seattle, 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Oct. 19 vs. New York Giants, 3:25 p.m. (FOX)
Oct. 27 vs. Washington, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Nov. 2 vs. Arizona, Noon, (FOX)
*Nov. 9 at Jacksonville, Noon, (FOX)
Nov. 23 at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
Nov. 27 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m. (FOX)
Dec. 4 at Chicago, 7:25 p.m. (NFLN)
Dec. 14 at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
Dec. 21 vs. Indianapolis, 3:25 p.m. (CBS)
Dec. 28 at Washington, Noon (FOX)
*Game played in London
Team by team notes
Arizona: The Cowboys have lost the past three meetings, including two in overtime.
Houston: Will the Cowboys face Johnny Manziel or defend Jadeveon Clowney? Dallas leads the series, 2-1.
Indianapolis: Andrew Luck gets his first shot against the Cowboys, but the Colts have won the last two meetings.
New Orleans: Rob Ryan comes to AT&T Stadium as an opponent. The Saints have won the past three games against the Cowboys, including last season’s 49-17 beatdown in the Superdome.
New York Giants: Cowboys swept them last year. Is Eli Manning in a decline?
Philadelphia: Cowboys looking for revenge after losing in the regular-season finale last season.
San Francisco: Dallas does have a three-game win streak against the 49ers, but Colin Kaepernick wasn’t the quarterback.
Washington: DeSean Jackson vs. Cowboys secondary. Jason Hatcher vs. the Cowboys’ offensive line. Get the hype started.
Chicago: Jay Ratliff faces the Cowboys again. Henry Melton takes on his former team. Oh yeah, Cowboys lost to the Bears last season, 45-28.
Jacksonville: This is the first regular-season game in London in Cowboys’ history. Last time they visited London was for a preseason game in 1986.
St. Louis: Scott Linehan takes on his former team. Does he have something to prove?
Seattle: Walter Thurmond said he’s the best slot corner in the game. Wonder what Orlando Scandrick thinks? Seattle has won the last three at home.
Tennessee: It’s the first meeting between the teams since 2010. Last time Cowboys visited Nashville, Terrell Owens gave Pacman Jones his shoes and Andre Gurode got stomped in the face by Albert Haynesworth.
On Wednesday afternoon, the team signed Caleb Hanie to a one-year contract to become the fourth quarterback on the roster. Hanie's signing is insurance if Kyle Orton, the current No. 2, retires or forces the team to release him.
Financially, it just doesn't make sense for Orton to leave the Cowboys. He loses $3.2 million in base salary should he retire, and he could be forced to pay back roughly $3 million in bonuses. However, Orton might just be forced to repay $510,000, which is the signing bonus he picked up last year from a re-negotiated contract from last March.
However the financials work out, losing Orton in any way, means the team's quarterback position gets weaker behind Romo.
Orton was a solid backup and worth the money the Cowboys were paying him to support Romo. But if he's gone, the options are limited.
Brandon Weeden played two seasons in Cleveland and despite his age (30), he's still relatively young in NFL years.
Hanie, a Forney, Texas native, didn't play last season in Cleveland, yet in 2011 he went 0-4 as a starter for the Chicago Bears with three touchdown passes and nine interceptions thrown. When Romo injured his back and the Cowboys worked out a gaggle of quarterbacks last December, Hanie looked very good during his visit.
But the Cowboys went with Jon Kitna instead because he was familiar with Jason Garrett's offense.
Now, after another workout on Wednesday, Hanie looked sharp again and this time he was signed to the one-year deal.
Of course, Hanie, Weeden and Orton might not be here, if at all in 2014, should the Cowboys select a quarterback in the early rounds of next month's draft. We're not even going into the Johnny Manziel talk because it's doubtful he'll fall to No. 16 overall.
The Cowboys have greater needs for their team -- especially on defense, which finished last overall in 2013. Getting a defensive end and maybe a right tackle are priorities. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said the offseason work, in terms of signing three defensive linemen, has prompted the team to draft for the best player available, instead of forcing to draft for a need.
Hanie gives the Cowboys flexibility as a No. 2 quarterback -- if he can beat out Weeden.
It's amazing how the Cowboys' backup quarterback, the same player, who almost beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 regular-season finale, has turned the offseason upside down with his indecision to play.
But the Cowboys made the right decision on Wednesday in getting Hanie, because there's nothing wrong with a little insurance.
Hanie started four games for the Chicago Bears late in 2011 in place of an injured Jay Cutler. He finished that year completing 51 of 102 pass attempts for 613 yards, three touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Bears decided not to re-sign Hanie following that season.
Originally an undrafted rookie free agent out of Colorado State, Hanie spent a combined four seasons in Chicago (2008-11) and appeared in the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers where he connected on 13 of 20 throws for 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The signing gives the Cowboys insurance in case No. 2 quarterback Kyle Orton retires. Orton informed his coaches during exit physicals the day after starting the team's season-ending loss to Philadelphia that he was considering retiring from the NFL.
Orton didn't attend the first day of offseason workouts and with starter Tony Romo coming back from back surgery, Hanie gives the Cowboys some flexibility at the position.
As much as paying Smith is a sure thing, the decision with Claiborne's option in 2016 is as up in the air. They will have to make the decision by May 2015, which means Claiborne will have to answer a few questions first.
The transition tag for cornerbacks in 2014 is $10.081 million, so figure that number will increase in 2015 by the time the Cowboys have to make up their minds on Claiborne's future.
The Cowboys gave up their first- and second-round picks to the St. Louis Rams to move up to take Claiborne with the sixth overall pick. He has two interceptions in two seasons. He lost his job to Orlando Scandrick in 2013 in part because of injury but also because Scandrick was playing better.
There is no guarantee he will be a starter in 2014 either.
Claiborne's health has been an issue since he was picked. He arrived with a cast on his surgically repaired left wrist in 2012. He also suffered a knee injury in camp. Last year he hurt his shoulder in the season opener and missed games with a hamstring injury. He had shoulder and finger surgery in the offseason.
If Claiborne has the type of season in 2014 the Cowboys were hoping he could have when they made the bold move to take him, then they could pick up his option as a way to guarantee they are keeping a player at a premium spot, especially if Brandon Carr does not bounce back.
They could just as easily get out of the option by the first day of the 2016 league year by rescinding the offer. The option is only guaranteed for injury at the time the team elects to pick it up. If Claiborne is on the roster for the first day of the league year, it is guaranteed for injury and skill.
The Cowboys manage their salary cap years in advance. They know the ramifications of picking up Claiborne's option and not picking it up. They are scheduled to be in good shape, but also have long-term decisions to make on Smith, Dez Bryant and possibly DeMarco Murray this summer and next summer that could eat into that space.
Claiborne can help the Cowboys with their decision by living up to the expectations in 2014.
In his four mock drafts, he has had Timmy Jernigan (twice), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Stephon Tuitt going to the Cowboys in the first round.
In his most recent Insider piece on ESPN.com , McShay mentioned prospects that might be the best fit with a team. After listing eight fits, which includes defensive tackle Aaron Donald going to the Chicago Bears (which might upset some Cowboys fans), he has pass rushers Dee Ford and Jeremiah Attaochu, as fits for the Cowboys in the second round.
The Cowboys need pass-rushers. Ford had quite a push at the Senior Bowl and has speed to burn. Attaochu had 32 sacks at Georgia Tech.
They are also something of tweeners. Ford is 6-2, 240 pounds. Attaochu is 6-3, 252 pounds. That is light even for the right defensive end spots in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. They could be pass-rush specialists as rookies and grow into full-time roles later as they pack on more weight.
But Marinelli’s better right defensive ends have been Simeon Rice and Julius Peppers. Rice was 6-5, 268 pounds. Peppers, who was courted by the Cowboys as a free agent to a small degree, is 6-6, 283 pounds. They are the prototypes and special talents.
In the second round, the Cowboys could take a chance on players that might not fit the prototype but can do one thing exceptionally well.
Ford and Attaochu could also be part of the future if the Cowboys make wholesale coaching and scheme changes after the 2014 season.