Despite weeks of breathless anticipation and hyperdrive hype headed your way about the NFL's 2021 marquee debut, the Dallas Cowboys' season opener at Tampa Bay Sept. 9 just might be their least important game of the season.
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We know that team owner Jerry Jones doesn't see it that way, half-jokingly saying to NFL Network on Saturday at training camp in Oxnard, "We're going to have a lot of prayer, so we could get the courage to show up. World-champion, Tom Brady, Tampa, great atmosphere -- what a better opportunity to step up there and be David against Goliath."
While Dallas is a 6.5-point underdog, Jerry is going way too far in that direction of "ultra-importance.''
We go the other way. And how's that? Because after likely starting 0-1 with a loss on the road to the heavily favored defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and Brady, Dallas' schedule quickly transforms from an uphill gravel road to a Summer Slip-'n-Slide. The Cowboys are being fed a Super Bowl sandwich, having to face the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11.
But in between those penciled-in defeats are the eight games that will shape the season. None of those eight opponents had a winning record in 2020.
In Weeks 2-10 (with a bye thrown in), the Cowboys play the:
San Diego Chargers (7-9)
Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)
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Carolina Panthers (5-11)
New York Giants (6-10)
New England, Patriots (7-9)
Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Denver Broncos (5-11)
Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Basically between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, the Cowboys will play only realistically winnable football games.
Granted, it's flawed thinking that the Cowboys will be favored in those games or should win. After all, they're playing a third-place schedule in 2021 because they were 6-10 in 2020. But with a healthy Dak Prescott looking healthy and sharp in training camp (as soon as his shoulder soreness subsides) along with the return of offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La'el Collins and help for last season's historically horrible defense in new coordinator Dan Quinn and No. 1 draft pick Micah Parsons, the Cowboys have legitimate reasons for optimism.
Yes, even if "David'' loses on the much-anticipated Thursday night in "Goliath's'' stadium.