Every team has a four-game gauntlet that can make or break their season. If new coach Mike McCarthy wants to lead the Dallas Cowboys back to the playoffs, and put a little more luster on the blue star, there is a quarter of the schedule in November where Dallas can prove their mettle.
According to NFL.com analytics guru Cynthia Frelund, the Cowboys' toughest four-game stretch is between Weeks 9-13. Dallas kicks off the slate against the Pittsburgh Steelers at AT&T Stadium.
After a Week 10 bye, the Cowboys go on the road to face the Minnesota Vikings. Week 12 sees the Cowboys coming home for Thanksgiving versus Washington, and then staying on Thursdays with a trip to Baltimore in Week 13.
In Frelund's models, the Cowboys have a 41.9% chance to beat the Steelers. Against the Vikings on the road, their chances to win drop by just 0.4%. Dallas gets a boost against Washington with a 60.1% chance to win, and then the Ravens look like a toss-up with the Cowboys having a 46.8% chance for victory.
Last season, there were three four-game stretches that could have been considered the toughest for Dallas. Going off of results, the Cowboys posted a 1-3 mark in encounters with the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Philadelphia Eagles from Weeks 4-7.
In June of 2019, spectators may have interpreted that stretch as tough because of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and the threat a division game always poses. Though Teddy Bridgewater filled in for Brees and the Jets turned out to be more formidable than imagined, the stretch was nonetheless costly for Dallas.
Weeks 14-17 could have been considered another four-game stretch that would have been challenging when viewed in the 2019 off-season. Dallas played two division champions back-to-back in the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams, faced the Eagles on the road, and then closed out at AT&T Stadium against Washington, an opponent against whom anything is possible.
The Cowboys went 2-2 down the stretch with losses to Chicago and Philadelphia.
The problem with viewing schedules and projecting difficulty in June is there's a bevy of injuries and attrition, missed connections and miscommunication that play out over the course of training camp and preseason that render off-season contenders into regular season pretenders.
The Bears and Rams failed to make the playoffs in 2019. The Saints couldn't get out of the first round, and that was with a home wild-card at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Some four-game stretches aren't realized until looking back at the totality of the season. Dallas hosted Minnesota, went on the road to the Detroit Lions, went to Foxboro and battled the New England Patriots, and hosted the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving from Weeks 10-13.
That turned out to be a rough quarter for the Cowboys as they posted a 1-3 record. With rose-colored glasses on for a team that won the NFC East in 2018, that stretch might have seemed like one of Dallas’ easier roads a summer ago.
Dallas has challenging patches of the 2020 slate that are easy to identify. However, there will be stretches where the difficulty to win won't be noticeable until the Cowboys are already in the eye of the storm.
Which chunk of the 2020 schedule do you think will be most trying for the Cowboys? Share your pick with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.