Wednesday marked the release of the NFL’s 2021 17-game schedule. From the Dallas Cowboys taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the opening day of the season to everything in between, there is a lot to be excited about as an NFL fan.

As with any year, many are already looking through their team’s schedule and predicting wins and losses months in advance. As expected, all 32 fan bases expect their team to be in the postseason.

The Dallas Cowboys have an interesting schedule. Week one provides an intriguing challenge against Tom Brady and the champs. Week two, the Cowboys take on Justin Herbert on the road. Then, to close the season, Dallas has to get through an NFC East gauntlet.

Here are 17 thoughts on the 17-game schedule.

DAK IS BACK AGAINST CHAMPS

Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott
Sep 27, 2020; Seattle, Washington, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) huddles with teammates during pregame warmups against the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

How fitting is it that Dak Prescott’s return to the football field will come against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL’s kickoff game of the 2021 season? It shows how the NFL feels about Prescott. It also gives Prescott a big opportunity to make a major statement in his return to the gridiron.

CHALLENGE AGAINST THE CHARGERS

After taking on the champs, the Cowboys are tasked with taking on the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers may not seem like a big deal on paper, but Los Angeles will likely be competing for a playoff spot in 2021 behind the arm of Justin Herbert.

Win or lose in week one, the Cowboys cannot afford to have a let-down game the following week. Starting the season in a 0-2 hole is not season-ending, but it certainly makes things more difficult to climb out of.

RIVALRY ON MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott
Dec 27, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) runs after catch in the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys versus Eagles on Monday Night Football in week three. It doesn’t get much better than that. This is one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, and both teams will be looking to grab an early-season division win on a primetime stage.

Jalen Hurts has the opportunity to establish himself as the unquestioned quarterback in Philadelphia this season, but the Cowboys defense has other plans. Look for Dan Quinn to make life hard on Hurts with his multiple defense.

The Cowboys should be favored in this game, but rivarly games are always a toss-up.

COWBOYS HOST SAM DARNOLD

Things did not go the Cowboys’ way the last time that Dallas faced Sam Darnold. Dallas dropped a 24-22 dud to the Jets in 2019. Darnold threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns — including a 92-yard score to Robby Anderson — against the Cowboys’ defense.

Darnold and Anderson will be back to hurt the Dallas defense this season in new colors, as the pair will look to take the Panthers into playoff contention. This has the scary potential of being a trap game in between two divisional battles. The Cowboys cannot afford to lay a dud.

GIANTS COME TO TOWN

Dallas Cowboys, CeeDee Lamb
Jan 3, 2021; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88) catches a pass against New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) in the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The following week, New York comes to AT&T Stadium. It was pretty surprising to see the NFL not schedule the two division foes in week one. Nonetheless, the two teams will square off pretty early in the season.

There will certainly be a lot of emotion in the game. Dak Prescott, of course, had his season ended against the Giants last season. Look for him to remind the Giants who is the best signal caller in the NFC East.

BATTLE WITH BILL

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will host the Cowboys in week six. It will be the first time that the two teams will be play since 2019 — when Tom Brady was still running the show. This has the makings of an interesting matchup because we don’t know who will be the quarterback for the Patriots.

New England re-signed Cam Newton this offseason before drafting former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at 15th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. The two offer very different skill sets, so the Cowboys must be prepared to face either one when they head to Foxborough.

MCCARTHY VERSUS ZIMMER

Mike McCarthy and Mike Zimmer had more than a handful of battles in the NFC North when McCarthy was the head coach of the Packers. McCarthy is 1-0 against Zimmer since taking the Cowboys job after the Cowboys grabbed a road victory with Andy Dalton behind center.

Dak Prescott is 1-1 against Minnesota in his career. This is another game in which the Cowboys should be favored in following a bye week, but the Vikings have an impressive amount of offensive talent to throw at the Dallas defense.

COWBOYS AVOID TRIP TO MILE HIGH

The Cowboys take on the Broncos this season, but Dallas will not have to travel to Mile High. That is certainly a good thing, as playing in the high altitude has the ability to turn a should-be win into a crushing loss.

Is Aaron Rodgers the quarterback in Denver by then? Maybe so. That would make this a must-watch game. As it stands now, the Cowboys can’t let Drew Lock grab a win in their own stadium.

DAN QUINN REVENGE GAME

Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan
Nov 12, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) greets Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) after their game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys take on the Falcons at home in 2021. Last year, Dallas won a come-from-behind thriller that featured spectactular play from Dak Prescott and multiple mistakes from Atlanta.

The biggest storyline in this game surrounds the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, though. Dan Quinn was fired by Atlanta this offseason after a rough tenure, aside from 2016. Look for Quinn to have a little extra motivation for this one, as the Cowboys will be tasked to slow down the Falcons’ high-powered offense.

DAK VERSUS MAHOMES

Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes will square off for their first time on November 21. The two are the highest-paid players in NFL history, and both are among the best quarterbacks in the league.

The contracts for each player will be the big talking point, but the Cowboys will have their attention on knocking off perhaps the best quarterback and best team in the NFL on the road in a hostile environment.

Playing both teams from last season’s Super Bowl on the road won’t be easy, to say the least.

RAIDERS ON TURKEY DAY

The Dallas Cowboys will host the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving this year. The game will feature two of the most iconic uniforms in all of sports. Dallas will look to avenge last season’s Thanksgiving Day loss.

It will be the first meeting between the Cowboys and Raiders since this happened:

DAK BACK TO THE BOOT

Haughton, Louisiana, native Dak Prescott will travel back to The Boot to take on his home state New Orleans Saints in December. It will be the third game in 11 days for the Cowboys, and the third Thursday game of the year.

Jameis Winston is set to be the Saints’ week one starter, it appears, but Sean Payton always has something up his sleeve. New Orleans is expected to take a step back following Drew Brees’ retirement. That said, it’s never easy to win in MercedesBenz Superdome.

THREE DIVISIONAL GAMES IN A ROW FOR COWBOYS

Dallas Cowboys Baltimore Ravens
Nov 26, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) chases Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) as Smith returns an interception during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys will play three NFC East games in a row — and four of their last five regular season games will come against division opponents. Dallas travels to Washington and New York before hosting Washington in week sixteen.

The division will likely come down to the Cowboys and The Football Team, so this stretch of games will be crucial to whoever comes out on top in what should be an improved NFC East. A losing streak towards the end of the season could be the difference in making the postseason or not.

Thankfully, Dak Prescott is an impressive 19-6 against the rest of the division.

BATTLE AGAINST THE BIRDS TO CLOSE THINGS OUT

Finally, the Cowboys close the regular season with two games against bird mascots. First, Dallas hosts the Arizona Cardinals in a rematch of last season’s disatarous 38-10 loss. Prescott wasn’t in uniform last time around, so things should be different come January.

Then, the Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in the final week of the regular season. The Eagles are not expected to be a huge threat in the division next season, but the NFC East is always so predictable.

Besides, the Eagles would like nothing more than to play spoiler and potentially ruin the Cowboys’ chances of getting back into the playoffs. The final month or so of the season could be very challenging for the Dallas Cowboys.

Featured image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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