Predicting Dallas Cowboys' Most Important Games of the 2014-2015 Season
The Dallas Cowboys are on a mission to finish better than their last three years at 8-8 next season, and given their schedule, that will be a tall task.
The Cowboys have far from a breezy schedule ahead of them next season and for that reason will need to come up with some big wins in important games. The team has not exactly been known for its ability to come through in the clutch under coach Jason Garrett.
If Garrett wants to stay on as coach of the Cowboys next year, it's likely he'll need to bring this squad to the postseason.
Let's take a look at which games are the most crucial for both Dallas' playoff hopes and Garrett's job security.
Week 1 vs. San Francisco 49ers
The Cowboys and 49ers are two of the NFC's most storied franchises, constantly battling in the conference title games, starting in the 1970s and going through to the '90s. These two are rivals based on their long history of ending each other's seasons just before reaching the big game.
More recently, the 49ers have been in the NFC Championship Game the past three seasons. If the Cowboys could stun Jim Harbaugh's crew to start the year, that would be huge for team morale. It would also be a sign that perhaps this won't be a down year for Big D.
Ultimately, a loss to a very talented San Francisco squad would not be the end of the world. It should probably be expected. This is a very early statement game for the 'Boys. A win over the 49ers could provide an early-season spark.
Week 4 vs. New Orleans Saints
The Dallas Cowboys got flat-out embarrassed on the road against the Saints last season, falling 49-17. This year, New Orleans will travel to AT&T Stadium for a Sunday Night Football matchup with the 'Boys.
Another game where Garrett's team will be the underdog, a home victory against the Saints in prime time would be huge. The Saints made it to the divisional round of the playoffs last season and won the Super Bowl back in 2009.
Former Cowboys coach Sean Payton has turned the Saints into one of the NFL's more successful teams in recent history. A victory over them would be the perfect way for Dallas to turn the page on the first quarter of the season.
Like the 49ers game, this is one that the 'Boys are not exactly expected to win. An upset here would be quite helpful down the road for postseason purposes and immediately bring this team confidence.
New Orleans showed the Cowboys last season just how deadly its offense can be. Dallas will have to find more than a few ways to limit Drew Brees and Co. to earn a big home win.
Week 10 at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are not the most intimidating team on the Cowboys' schedule this season, but this is a game Dallas needs to win.
This is the 2014 season's game in London, England, and it will be just the second game away from AT&T Stadium for Dallas over a seven-week span.
Jacksonville has some impressive players on its roster such as linebacker Paul Posluszny. The team also added former Seahawks Chris Clemons and Red Bryant this offseason.
All of a sudden, the Jaguars have the pieces for a solid defensive unit and will have this draft's No. 3 overall pick on their roster.
While the Cowboys still arguably have the upper hand in terms of talent, this game has some trap-game elements to it. Dallas has never played in the London game before and will have been sitting cozy at home for quite a long time before this contest.
The Cowboys cannot afford to take the Jags lightly in this bout across the pond. This team cannot afford to drop games it is expected to win.
Week 12 at New York Giants
After the Cowboys come back from their Week 11 bye week, they will face four divisional opponents over their last six games. Those two non-NFC East teams that Dallas will play in between are the Bears and Colts.
Starting in Week 12 against the Giants, the Cowboys can hardly afford a loss, let alone a divisional one. After already facing off previously in Week 7, Jason Garrett and Co. should have a good idea about what to expect from the G-Men.
Bleacher Report NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon believes Dallas will lose this game in a close affair but thinks it can win Week 7 against the Giants.
The Cowboys and Giants are very closely matched and always play each other close, so the season split prediction is understandable. It's also possible that either of these teams could sweep the other and grab two important divisional wins.
The best way to make the playoffs is to win your division.
Week 14 at Chicago Bears
The Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears have faced off three times in the past four seasons. Chicago has won all three meetings and blown out the Cowboys in the past two.
Dallas will travel to a likely snow-covered and frigid Soldier Field for the second straight year in hopes of remedying its 45-28 loss in 2013.
The Bears re-signed a whole bunch of players from the team that trounced the 'Boys last December. They also brought in studs like Willie Young and Lamarr Houston to boost the defense.
This contest is not going to be an easy one by any means, but if the Cowboys are even remotely in the playoff hunt, they need this game. Beating the Bears on the road would have Garrett's team bursting with confidence that would carry over into the season's final weeks.
Even if the Cowboys aren't in playoff contention by Week 14, a win against the Bears would allow Dallas to gain some pride at the very least. Chicago was just a few wins away from the playoffs in 2013, after all.